Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report

SPACE (5707/03)

Letter from the Chairman to Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Department for Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated February 2003 which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 24 March.

  This paper covers issues relating to pure science, industry and technology, security and Community competence. The Green Paper makes no secret that the Commission see Space policy as a natural component of a European Security and Defence Policy. These are considerations of vital importance to this country and it is by no means clear to us that the Government has fully examined the implications of the Green Paper in these critical areas. For example, what are HMG's views on the issues raised in section 2.3 (entitled Improving the Security of Citizens)? The inference that we draw is that the Green Paper is pointing towards pulling together civil and military technologies under a Community competence, and thus impinging on Second Pillar competences. Does HMG expect the BNSC to respond to Question 8? Will the BNSC reflect the views of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? What is HMG's response to Question 8?

  We were also surprised at the relaxed way in which you have responded to what appears to be an ambitious forward policy on the part of the European Commission—the suggestion that it may be desirable to grant the Community competence in space. Such a development could have important legal and policy implications and be the key for expensive programmes which the UK might well find unwelcome and onerous. Once the Community achieves competence, the UK could be faced with the need to assemble allies in dealing with proposals that would be determined by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Here, again, the implications for defence and security policy need to be clearly spelt out. We should be grateful for your views on the matter of Commission competence on space policy.

  You say that you are encouraged by the thrust of the Commission's Green Paper, and that the UK has, for some time, fostered a close working relationship between the European Commission and the European Space Agency. You add that there is a great deal of similarity in the way the subject is addressed by the European Commission in its Green Paper, and by your Department in the national Space Strategy document UK Space Strategy 2000-2006 and beyond.

  Yet missing from the UK Space Strategy Paper is any discussion of the European launcher programme that is a feature of the Commission's Green Paper (1.1 "Fundamental Elements"). It seems to us that after the failure of the Ariane 5 rocket in December 2002, a launch vehicle for European Space Strategy will become increasingly important. In this context, the Commission's apparent determination to acquire competence in space, suggest that the UK Government could find itself being obliged to contribute to the cost of a satellite delivery system—something which it has consistently declined to do in the past. We should be grateful for your views on this.

  UK strategy has obviously been thought through on the basis of the cost effective use of space, and we applaud this. What we fear is that unless the full range of issues are examined clearly at this initial stage, there will come a time when it will no longer be possible to manage a national space strategy separately from participating in a pan-European Union strategy. Once "the discovery of space" has appeared in a Treaty for a European Constitution as one of the objectives of the European Union, it will be difficult to dislodge and it will inevitably be prayed in aid to support an enhanced European space programme that might go far beyond what HMG would consider desirable.

  We note that the British National Space Centre (BNSC) will collate the UK Government's response to the Commission's Green Paper. We should like to see a copy of this together with your responses to our points raised above, preferably in time for us to reconsider this paper in the light of the Government's views, and before the Government's response is submitted to the Commission. We should like to consider your reply at the Sub-Committee meeting scheduled for 6 May 2003 and would accordingly be grateful to receive it by 1 May 2003.

  Given our concerns about these important matters, we are maintaining the Scrutiny reserve on this document for the time being.

26 March 2003

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