Agency aims for funding compromise after investment talks collapsed in late 2002

The European Space Agency (ESA) is to hold an emergency council meeting this week in an attempt to break the deadlock over funding for the Galileo satellite navigation system. Talks broke down late last month after Germany and Spain rejected the latest compromise deal on investment and workshare proposed by ESA's director general Antonio Rodotà.

Officially, ESA is still in 2002. The agency has not formally closed last year's final session, which merely "ran out of time" in December and is set to be completed in an extraordinary general meeting of the 15 member states' transport ministers, to be held this week in Paris. Volker Liebig, director of space programmes at Germany's aerospace research centre, the DLR, says Germany will now agree to the compromise on a governmental level, but that finding an agreement between German and Italian industrial partners could still prove difficult.

If ESA cannot reach an agreement before the end of the month, the EC is likely to continue with the first phase alone - its half share of the first year's budget was cleared last year and has now been informally frozen. This could give ESA until July to resolve its differences over the €1.1 billion ($1.14 billion) first phase (Flight International, 3-9 December 2002).

Under Rodotà's latest compromise proposal, Germany was to invest 17.5% of ESA's €550 million share of the project, for an equal portion of contracts. Germany turned the deal down, arguing that under ESA rules it should lead the project on account of its larger economy.

Liebig says Germany had initially wanted to highlight the fact that it contributes 25% of the EC's side of the funding, against around 13% put in by Italy and around 17% each for France and the UK.

ESA says that this weighting rule only applies to scientific projects, not "application" programmes, and that Germany's refusal to accept the compromise leaves it "back at square one". Rodotà warns that the "entire space industry in Europe will badly suffer from this break in the negotiations".

Source: Flight International