Since the launch of its two ‘flagship programmes’ in the late 1990s, the European Union (EU) has been increasingly involved in space activities. The earth observation programme GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, recently renamed Copernicus) and Galileo (positioning and navigation, just like the American GPS) will soon be operational and will support a whole spectrum of European policies, from environment and transport to security and defence.
There is often the temptation to compare EU space activities and policies with those of other spacefaring nations. However, the EU is not a state (or a federation) and its space-related initiatives build on pre-existing capabilities and skills spread among some European countries and organisations, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), based in Paris, or EUMETSAT. Various former and current stakeholders are therefore involved and need to be accommodated. Moreover, there is no consolidated European programme in this domain, although some reflections are ongoing: for instance, the EU-ESA jointly endorsed European Space Policy (2007), and the staff working document of the Commission reporting preliminary elements for a space programme.