Press Releases European space conference: Welcome address by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell

European space conference: Welcome address by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell

European space conference: Welcome address by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell

Good morning to everybody, bonjour à tout le monde.

I am very happy to be here and deliver the opening remarks at this European space conference. It is not the usual rhetoric, saying that I am very happy to be here. In this case it is really true. Dans ce cas, c’est vrai, c’est vraiment vrai, c’est pour moi un grand plaisir d’être présent à cette conférence. It brings me back to my previous life because I am an aeronautical engineer by training and now my school, the school of aeronautical engineering in Madrid Polytechnical University has changed its name, it is now called ‘aeronautical and space engineering’ which shows how important the word ‘space’. 

I remember also when I was Minister of transport in 1992 when Spain launched the first telecom satellite Hispasat from French Guyana, with an Ariane. I remember at that time the opposition was saying that it was a waste of money. ‘Why do you want this satellite, it is a waste of money. C’est une façon absurde de dépenser de l’argent, cela ne va servir à rien.’ C’était Hispasat 1992, things have changed a lot since then. So thank you for inviting me and taking me out of the everyday fight about Libya war, about the nuclear deal with Iran, what is happening in the world, which is a very trouble-some world, and have a look at the future that the space conference represents. 

I would like to make some observations on space policy from the geo-political point of view because from the technological point of view I completely forgot what I learned many years ago and you know much more than I about it. But from the geo-political point of view let me say some words.

First, space is, quite literally, the new frontier of global politics, la nouvelle frontière, [former President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald] Kennedy said, now it is really true. In the foreign policy world we tend to overuse the term ‘strategic’. When we do not know what to say about something, we say it is a strategic issue. But in this case, using the word strategic is fully justified, as space is really a strategic issue. Space exploration is crucial for our understanding of the universe and it has triggered many technological innovations – you know that better than I do. Today, satellites and other space-based assets are essential for the functioning of our economy. It is estimated that the global economy depends for 60% directly or indirectly on space-based tools. Space is increasingly a key component of the global security equation. 

The rise in geo-political tensions we see on earth is being extended and projected into space. Let me give some examples to illustrate the increasingly geo-competitive nature of space: 

Russia has developed several counter-space capabilities, from ground-launched anti-satellite missiles to inspection satellites and lasers able to blind satellites or interfere with their communication systems.  

China’s military is setting up specialised units and has begun operational training with counter-space capabilities, such as ground-launched anti-satellite missiles.

India – I was in India last week at the Raisina dialogue – India conducted an anti-satellite test in March 2019 and is setting up a Defence Space Agency that is expected to command all space assets of India’s army, navy and air force. 

We know that the US has created a formal Space Force as its 6th branch of the US military. Last June, NATO defence ministers adopted a formal space policy in recognition that while space can be used for peaceful purposes, it is also an arena for security competition. And just yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Abe announced the creation of a space defence unit too.

Let us remember that in the past, space enabled people, including former enemies, to work together. It is also a place for cooperation on ambitious and transformative goals. Just think of the inspiring joint work of the International Space Station. I think that we need to maintain this collaborative approach in space. 

Like life on earth, “space” is changing its nature. “Space” is increasingly congested, contested and competitive it is three C congested, contested and competitive. What do I mean by that?

Space is congested as more and more countries and actors are launching an ever increasing number of civilian and military satellites. People would not believe that there are around 5000 satellites in orbit of which less than 2000 are operational, so there are 3000 satellites turning around the Earth doing nothing. This has created a real problem of how to handle the debris. This is aggravated by the trend of launching ever larger constellations with shorter lifespans. The circular economy [that] we talk about for the things we buy in our everyday life should also be implemented in the space programs.

Space is contested. We are seeing unilateral moves, and the risk of a growing weaponisation or arms races in space. This is happening with the legal regime and the normative framework for space only partially developed and where the principle of peaceful uses of outer space is being eroded. 

Finally, space is competitive. It is vital for multiple sectors. It becomes a rare resource. Not ‘just’ for science and exploration but also for the digital economy and the 4th industrial revolution and the broad security domain.

On this framework, let’s talk about Europe. Europe has a massive stake in the future of space. Our future prosperity and security depend on that. Thankfully, Europe – when I say Europe I mean the European Union, but also the EU Member States and the European Space Agency more particularly – has a solid track record of acting together over many years which have led to concrete successes. 

Everybody knows Copernicus is the world’s largest provider of Earth observation data. EGNOS and Galileo are the two components of the EU system providing position, navigation and timing services. 

In December Galileo reached the milestone of having 1 billion users, which is a major sign of success. It is very interesting for me to remember when I was in Guyana launching a telecommunications satellite.

On security-related matters, the European Union’s Satellite Centre [SATCEN] in Torrejón, Madrid, has helped to deliver key geostrategic intelligence analysis to the European Union and Member States, contributing to monitoring the crisis of conflict areas and supporting the EU advisory operations. When we are planning what to do in Libya, it immediately comes to our mind that we have a powerful tool observing what is happening there and guiding the operations on the ground.  

I think the future European Defence Fund could offer further support through the Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, in the field of security, defence and space.

Space is also a catalyst for the development of critical technologies for many strategic sectors: digital, Artificial Intelligence, energy and so on. 

Europe has to face a fiercely competition in a global environment. It will strengthen our capacity to act. And it will enable us to develop new partnerships and extend Europe’s connectivity networks.  

I think that making these connections between different work strands lies precisely at the heart of my role as High Representative and Vice President of a Commission that wants to be a “geopolitical Commission”. In fact, what has to be geopolitical is the European Union as a whole. Not only the Commission, but the merge of the European Commission and the Member States joining their strength and resources to be present and winning the global competition. As High Representative for both of the Common Foreign and Security Policy [CFSP] and the Common Security and Defence Policy [CSDP] of the European Union, I will do my utmost to help bring about a coherent European Union approach to space. 

To conclude, space is a strategic issue –I am going to use the word strategic, although at the beginning I said we were overusing it- . Yes, it is. It is a strategic issue and we need to treat it as such. As European Union, we must be fully aware of what is at stake and act accordingly. 

I wish you a great conference and, believe me, it has been a big pleasure to have the opportunity of participating on the opening session, because here lies the future. You are the actors of the future. We have to deal with everyday problems, but the future is being built by people like you, having the chance of working in such an interesting technological, security, defence and geopolitical issue as is the satellite and space future. 

Thank you very much.

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