EU reaches agreement on satnav project

European Union countries, excluding Spain, reached agreement Thursday on the long-delayed Galileo satellite navigation project after lengthy talks on how the work would be divided up, the EU presidency announced.

EU reaches agreement on satnav project
Spain decided not to associate itself with the final declaration, EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told reporters, after the other 26 EU transport ministers had reached agreement to salvage the troubled project.

The EU's satellite navigation system aims to break Europe's reliance on the US military-run Global Positioning System (GPS).

However the Galileo project is already running five years behind the initial schedule, with just one test satellite up in orbit.

The US military is already working on super-powerful updates to its GPS technology to try to trump Galileo before it even gets up in the air, according to military experts there.

Satellite navigation, which allows users to pinpoint their location anywhere on Earth, is expected to be at the heart of new technologies for steering cars or guiding boats as they arrive at ports, or airplanes as they come into land.

It could also be used in accident assistance, search and rescue missions, monitoring fishing boats or container ships as well as mineral prospecting by miners, building pipelines, financial transactions or various leisure activities.

'Galileo will become the spearhead for European technology,' Barrot told reporters, after the talks ended late in the evening.

'We are on the way towards putting Galileo into operation for 2013 and to offer Europeans very many services,' he added.

Madrid had urged its EU partners to allow it to host a control centre for the future 30-satellite scheme aimed at showcasing Europe's hi-tech know-how.

However, under the current plans, only Germany and Italy are set to get control centres which will check the satellite system's functioning and transmissions.

The Spanish delegation left the meeting swiftly, suggesting to reporters that such a political decision should have been taken unanimously.

The Commissioner said that Spain had been offered a type of ground centre dedicated to civil protection, in particular in the area of maritime, air and rail security.

However the devil was clearly in the detail and the other 26 EU nations endorsed the plan without waiting for Madrid to be talked round, securing the overwhelming majority vote required.

Portuguese Transport Minister Mario Lino, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, judged that the conclusions adopted by the 26 'totally reflect everyone's point of view,' voicing astonishment at the Spanish intransigence.

The main issue the transport ministers were discussing was how to cut up the 3.4 billion euro Galileo cake among their companies.

To that end they agreed on tender rules which divide the Galileo contracts into six segments—including constructing the satellites and launchers, the ground stations and overall project management.

No single company may be the prime contractor for more than two segments.

Competition rules would normally dictate that contracts be awarded on a best-offer basis.

But the European space industry is concentrated into a few main groups, including the European EADS subsidiary Astrium, in which Germany has a major role, and the Franco-Italian Thales Alenia Space.

EU Commissioner Barrot had given the EU nations until the end of the year to reach an agreement or risk the troubled project being abandoned.

European budget ministers and EU lawmakers paved the way for agreement on Galileo's future last week by striking a deal on how to fund it.

They agreed to fill a 2.4-billion-euro (3.5-billion-dollar) hole in Galileo's financing entirely with money from the EU's 2007 and 2008 budgets.

Work on Galileo stalled earlier this year as cost over-runs piled up, the private contractors bickered and member states lobbied for their own industrial interests.

As the original public-private partnership involving a consortium of eight European companies fell apart, the European Commission recommended that the project should be relaunched using public money entirely.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Kasım 2007, 11:52