Speech Eurocommissaris Verheugen: Rol EU in ontdekking van de ruimte (en)

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 23 oktober 2009.

Günter Verheugen i

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and Industry

European opportunities in space exploration 

1st EU-ESA International Conference on Human Space Exploration

Prague, 23 October 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished Guests,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this conference which the European Commission was asked to organise by the EU Ministers' meeting in Kourou last year.

This request was confirmed in the September 2008 Space Council Resolution, which outlined four broad priority areas for the European Space Policy in the future. Space was linked to some of the fundamental political challenges facing the EU, such as addressing climate change, security, innovation and exploration. Ministers highlighted the need for Europe to develop a common vision for space exploration.

This conference is part of the Commission’s response to the political mandate which has been given to us to open a debate on the European role in the global exploration endeavour.

Space exploration is a captivating domain. The desire to understand the origins and evolution of the Universe has captured the imaginations of many brilliant minds over the centuries. Many of them Europeans. From Galileo and Copernicus to Newton and Einstein, every new break-through discovery has powered the progress of human civilisation.

But space exploration has never been driven by human curiosity alone. It is a symbol of global power and prestige.

For a century the advances in space exploration have been driven mainly by the Cold War agenda, and the space race between two superpowers – the US and the Soviet Union. But the world has changed profoundly since then. The democratic waves sweeping through Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the new era of globalisation have transformed the international environment for space exploration as well.

The US and Russia continue to drive forward the global agenda in space exploration. But new and emerging space powers have unleashed their potential as well. China and India have entered the space arena with high ambitions. China has already acquired systems to transport astronauts to and from orbit. India is formulating plans to enter this privileged club of nations with an envisaged first flight of an Indian capsule by 2016. Other countries are also rising to the challenge.

Never before have we seen greater willingness and better opportunities for international cooperation in the space domain.

Europe should not remain sidelined in this process. We have a strong history of cooperation. We have brilliant scientists and a very capable industry.

Through ESA and our Member States we have already contributed to the global exploration project. Let me only mention the Columbus laboratory and the automated transfer vehicle “Jules Vernes” – the largest ever automatic cargo space vehicle. More than 30 European astronauts have already flown into space and with Frank De Winne we have for the very first time a European in command of the International Space Station.

Our robotic presence in the solar system is constantly expanding through ESA’s successful missions to the Moon, Venus and Mars. The Huygens mission to Titan marked the farthest landing in the solar system so far.

But space exploration is not only about breaking the frontiers of human knowledge and scientific research. It is about our European political identity as well.

Some might think that it is perhaps a luxury to discuss space exploration at a moment when Europe is struggling with the consequences of a far-reaching economic and financial crisis. When governments are fighting hard to keep jobs and revive our ailing economies.

But to those sceptics I would say firmly ‘No’. Now is the right time. We have a window of opportunity and we must seize it. For the sake of our future and for those whose future we build today.

There are three significant reasons to engage in exploration:

First, space exploration can push forward the frontiers of scientific research and human knowledge. It can plant the seeds of tomorrow’s technologies.

Indeed, setting an ambitious agenda in exploration can be a strong booster for innovation in the European economy. And innovation is the only chance we have of building a stronger, globally competitive and more robust knowledge economy in the future.

Second, for the EU, space exploration could also be a catalyst for further European integration since it will offer all our Member States the possibility to participate on equal terms in such an inspiring human endeavour.

Third, a bold human space exploration endeavour is something that no single country or nation should do on its own. International cooperation will thus become a central element to space exploration; and the International Space Station is probably the best symbol of that.

Any future exploration endeavour must, and will be done through an international cooperation framework for the benefit of all humankind.

In this context Europe has a unique opportunity to assume a prominent role as a consensus broker in a global exploration initiative.

The US draft Augustine commission report, recommends developing a strong international partnership in space exploration. The US has contacted Russia and expects the EU to come forward as well.

As the EU and ESA, we are now being challenged to define our own strategic approach towards space exploration – human and robotic – in the 21st century.

Let me conclude by saying that Europe’s impact on the exploration endeavour and its impact on European society will depend on our ability to project a strong vision and long-term strategy for space exploration, ensuring key positions for Europe that are based on our domains of excellence.

That is why we have invited you here today to brain-storm and exchange ideas on what should be the role of Europe, and the European Union, in the global space exploration endeavour over the next decades.

We deliberately did not want to come here with prepared solutions. The discussions we are going to have should provide ideas on the way forward. Decisions will come next, based on more solid insight, in-depth studies and scenarios which ESA will prepare.

The conference is therefore a starting point; a first step in a process that should ultimately lead to the formulation of a European political vision and long-term strategy for space exploration.

I invite you to be open in this discussion, and be bold. The EU must not shy away from demonstrating leadership in this fascinating domain.

Thank you for your attention.