The Galileo Project
Why Europe wants its own satellite navigation program.
- By Craig Mellow
- Air & Space magazine, April 2013
(Page 4 of 5)
Chirac was apparently so anxious to resist American arm-twisting that he agreed to the public-private partnership Galileo scheme that was championed by his British counterpart, Prime Minister Tony Blair. The council of EU transport ministers at last approved the satellite network in March 2002. The private sector was supposed to foot two-thirds of the bill.
But two valuable years, 2000 through 2002, had passed with Galileo stuck on the drawing board. And the intra-European skirmish over whether to go the partnership route turned out to be mere warm-up for the battle over which private contractors would participate, and on what terms. The heavy hitters of European aerospace—the United Kingdom’s Astrium and Inmarsat, France’s Alcatel and Thales, Hispasat and AENA of Spain, Finmeccanica of Italy—went into a lobbying frenzy, backed by their respective governments, that caused four years of planning gridlock, according to the Euro Parliament inquiry, as well as a similar study by the European Court of Auditors.
In 2006, the companies decided to form one master cartel to negotiate with the Eurocrats. But while Europe fiddled for half a decade, the world of satellite navigation had changed. Free GPS had made its way to millions of cars, computers, and mobile devices all over the world, including Europe. In 2007, the would-be private financiers walked away, and Galileo looked like it might crash and burn.
The collapse of the investor talks happened at a most inopportune time politically. The European Union drafts its joint Brussels-controlled budget only once every seven years, and 2007 marked the start of a new cycle. In theory, no new funds would be available until 2014. But the centralized European Commission bureaucracy sprang into action, shifting €3.4 billion from other programs so the Union could build its satellite network without private money.
As usual, Britain grumbled. The extra money from Brussels “made a mockery of the complex process of negotiations and compromises” that had gone before, Blair’s government complained, according to the Euro Parliament’s report. But the money remained committed, at least through 2013.
One good thing did come out of Galileo’s lost years: a healing of the rift with America over the project. Wolfowitz’s letter and Europe’s response led to “some adult discussions” between the two sides, recalls Peckham. The Pentagon decided it was possible after all for Galileo to operate without compromising America’s ability to wage war.
The Europeans, for their part, admitted Wolfowitz had not been completely off base when he fretted about a system planned by civilians with only minimal input from the military. According to the Open Europe report, over the years, Galileo’s original satellite design has required close to 1,000 security improvements. (The most important was probably parting ways with China, which was supposed to be a partner in Galileo. China instead has developed its own regional satellite navigation system, called Beidou; India and Japan are also building regional systems. Russia’s GLONASS is currently the only other global system.) “Security was immature in the early days,” Peckham observes.