Macron sets himself up as the captain-general of space Europe

The meeting of ministers in Toulouse has served as an opportunity for France to encourage its partners to increase investment in space

PHOTO/AFP-Philippe Wojazer -  -   PHOTO/AFP-Philippe Wojazer - The president appeared at the ministerial summit in Toulouse to stress that without control of space, there is no strategic or military sovereignty

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has taken the reins of European space policy and has sent a message to all the governments of the Old Continent, regardless of their political colour, their economic situation or their geostrategic importance on the global stage. 

His words rang out loud and clear in Toulouse, the aerospace capital of the Hexagon. On 16 February, all the ministers responsible for space affairs in the European Union met there, including those from countries such as Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, which are not subject to the dictates of Brussels. Among those attending was the Spanish Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, who was appearing for the first time at an international space forum. 

Emmanuel Macron did not want to send his message by video conference from Paris, as he could have done. The space sector is key to France's economy and is of a truly strategic nature for its global interests, which is why the President of the Republic did not hesitate to attend the summit of ministers to deliver a long speech and emphasise that "without control of space, there is no strategic or military sovereignty".  

His presence in the capital of the Haute-Garonne department made it clear that "without control of space, there can be no scientific progress, no in-depth knowledge of major environmental and climatic problems". He reminded the ministers that space "has also become one of the new contemporary sites of conflict".  

PHOTO/Le Maire - Spain's Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant (on the left of the minister in a maroon shirt) made her debut in international space forums at the informal meeting of ministers in Toulouse. 

In short, Macron alerted his partners in Brussels that "Europe's sovereignty is at stake", that space "is a priority for France" and that the Old Continent cannot stand idly by in the fields of technology and science linked to outer space. In short, Brussels must get down to work and build its own space sovereignty. 

Support for the European communications constellation 

The French president also made the most of the informal summit of ministers, hosted by his influential economy minister, Bruno Le Maire - to whose department the French Space Agency is attached - to highlight the close relationship between outer space and defence, and the need for space policy to be framed in a geopolitical and economic dimension. 

PHOTO/NASA - ESA is to set up a committee of wise men to advise it on the feasibility of Europe embarking on an ambitious project to develop the infrastructure needed to send astronauts into space. 

Macron made known the three axes that, from France's perspective, should underpin this European sovereignty, which is one of his battle horses. The first is to provide the European Union with a constellation of small interconnected satellites capable of securely covering the communications of the Brussels authorities, governments and European citizens without depending on third powers, specifically the United States or China.  

In his long speech he backed the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Frenchman Thierry Breton, and his so-called European Secure Connectivity Initiative, a dual-use constellation - civil and military - with quantum encryption to prevent cyber-attacks, which was officially presented only a few days earlier. The major beneficiaries will be European satellite manufacturers, especially the French branches of Airbus and Thales Alenia Space. 

PHOTO/ESA - In his long speech on 16 February, Macron warned his partners that Europe's sovereignty is at stake, that space is a priority for France and that the Old Continent cannot remain absent. 

Its budget has been estimated at between 5 and 6 billion euros, a network that once deployed should also provide internet via satellite to citizens in Europe and Africa. Not all countries agree. Among other things because the plans are for one third to be financed by the Commission, one third by the private sector and the rest by the member states.  

Another reason for Emmanuel Macron's presence in Toulouse was to give his approval for the European Union to have a regulatory framework to ensure the sustainable use of space. The ministers agreed to work on drafting rules to try to regulate the growing space traffic. The proliferation of debris is increasingly endangering the satellites that make our daily lives easier, worrying governments and their owners, the operators of orbiting platforms. 

PHOTO/NASA - Current NASA administrator Bill Nelson shows a model of the space shuttle, next to which is a scale model of the expensive SLS launch system, which has yet to make its maiden flight. 
Committee of wise men 

Talks within the United Nations are not progressing at a desirable pace, and the rules that the United States wants to enforce in the international community are geared towards favouring its industry. So the ministers at the meeting agreed to work towards a kind of European Space Movement Code by 2024, to which third countries could then adhere. 

A slippery slope on which there are deep disagreements within the countries of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union concerns manned space travel. So far, European astronauts fly beyond Earth in Russian Soyuz or American Dragon capsules. 

PHOTO/NASA - Europeans are participating in NASA's Artemis programme to send astronauts to the moon by the middle of this decade. The question to be resolved is whether it is feasible to embark on an autonomous human spaceflight project.  

France favours an autonomous capacity to put astronaut capsules into orbit, but cannot embark alone. It needs its partners to also invest in the development of costly and complex heavy launchers, manned capsules and the necessary ground infrastructure. 

The solution adopted by ministers is to appoint a high-level advisory group or "wise men's committee", which is due to report back before the ESA ministerial meeting scheduled for November this year. The importance of the issue is such that, in addition to what the ministers agree later this year, France has sponsored a summit of heads of state or government for 2023, which will bring together EU and ESA member states and will again address the issue.

PHOTO/EU - The four key people at the Toulouse meeting. From left to right, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton, President Emmanuel Macron and the host of the meeting, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. 

Minister Diana Morant's space launch at the informal meeting of the European Union's Competitiveness Council on Space has served to anticipate to her European partners the forthcoming creation of the Spanish Space Agency. Its foundation is included in the draft of the new Science, Technology and Innovation Law, which is expected to be approved shortly by the Council of Ministers, a step prior to its parliamentary debate.