Galileo, the UK and China – the wrong trio for the EU ?

, par Fabien Cazenave, Translated by Tomas Spragg

Toutes les versions de cet article : [English] [français]

Galileo, the UK and China – the wrong trio for the EU ?

In late 2009 came a report of the National Assembly, which provided an update on the status of Galileo, the European GPS. It is now becoming clear that the programme poses two dangers for Europe ; The Chinese are preparing a war of frequencies whilst the British brought back the game of ’The Middle Kingdom’ by playing the American card. Will such moves be of detriment to the Europeans ?

Galileo is a European program of satellite navigation. The United States currently hold the monopoly on global satellite navigation with a GPS system. The Russians also have their GLONASS, which is not fully operational. The European heads of government recognised the strategic importance of developing a satellite navigation system which is unique to Europe. A specific program, Galileo, has been established.

Galileo and the Chinese problem

The report issued by Bernard Deflesselles (UMP) discusses the relationship between Europe and China on this issue : « Initially, cooperation with China should be at a level [...] of about 200 million Euros.’’ Now the Chinese government to avoid being dependent on American technology, has developed a competing system called »Beidou« (or »Compass") to be commissioned in 2015 with a constellation of more than 30 satellites. This has led to restrictions of European cooperation to the risks represented by the transfer of technology intended or suffered (espionage).

The report therefore concludes that the Chinese have taken advantage of the Europeans so that they can get one foot in the stirrup. Their economic development has been so powerful that they felt strong enough to build their own system. This is quite understandable, though it is regrettable that it may appear in hindsight as a manipulation of the European Union.

The problem lies in the fact that the Chinese will perhaps prevent the Galileo system to exist or simply to be effective. Indeed, for the future use of Beidou "China has published and frequency signals superimposed on the Galileo signals, including the encrypted signals (known as PRS). However, simplifying the strongest signal overrides the others. In other words, a significant part of the Galileo program, the regulated utility, may be jammed by the Chinese satellites’’.

The threat is so great for Galileo that putting it into place has already been a real problem. The program accumulated delays, lack of expertise and decision-making capacity. Today the threat is much greater as without an independent positioning system, the EU will bow down to technological Americans or Chinese as any future European defence will need to use of such a satellite system.

Today the threat is much greater as without an independent positioning system, the EU will bow down to technological Americans or Chinese

The UK, the double agent of the European Council

Clearly, the European Commission is free to conduct the necessary negotiations with China. Firstly, because it is not an organ of political leadership, and José Manuel Barroso (president) is very happy to do so. Secondly, because it does not represent the EU on foreign policy, in any case not without the approval of the European Council states. Thirdly, because his expertise on the management of Galileo did not put the program in a good position, so many errors have been accumulated on this issue, including monitoring the progress of the project by private investors in time.

Bernard Deflesselles makes clear in his report : The major issue that absolutely must be resolved through diplomatic deserves to be mentioned by the European Council. "We must react quickly and politically. But for the moment, in the absence of a real European diplomacy, the European Council is the only organ that can display a common position on the subject. Unfortunately, this type of decision is taken unanimously. Now we have a double-agent within the European Council : the United Kingdom.’’

Indeed, the British have always had a very thorough policy of friendship with our American cousins, whether it be for better or for worse. For the best when it comes to helping to negotiate an interoperability agreement between GPS and the Galileo and for the worst when it comes to doing everything to avoid the real possibility of civil and military independence of the European Union.

Indeed, the British have always had a very thorough policy of friendship with our American cousins, whether it be for better or for worse

For Bernard Deflesselles, « the United Kingdom considers that the management by the European Union, owner of Galileo, the signals used by the defence is the CFSP entailing unanimity, including under the Treaty of Lisbon. This would mean that the regulation governing the use of these signals, if indeed it is necessary because we are in a legal limbo, implies his agreement. But the UK does not »complicate" the cooperation between European armed forces’’.

Besides, this country has just launched in late March, a new space agency to fund the activities of civilian space flight, and representing countries in international organisations and within the European Space Agency. With an annual budget of 230 million pounds (343 million dollars), the UK Space Agency will include ensuring the management of British interests in EU projects such as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and constellation of Galileo navigation system.

£230 million to lobby in Galileo, this is a method that guarantees the advancement of the United Kingdom, which is a nuisance to some. Meanwhile, the Chinese are advancing at full speed on their project Beidou, whilst the procrastination of European diplomacy will disadvantage European citizens, even the British.

Image : Galileo Photograph, source : The European Commission

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