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date: 22 February 2024

The European Union Space Policylocked

The European Union Space Policylocked

  • Emmanuel SigalasEmmanuel SigalasPolicy Analyst at the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency of the European Commission; Research Fellow at the University of Leuven and the Czech Institute of International Relations


The European Union Space Policy (EUSP) is one of the lesser known and, consequently, little understood policies of the European Union (EU). Although the EU added outer space as one of its competences in 2009 with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the EUSP roots go back decades earlier.

Officially at least, there is no EUSP as such, but rather a European Space Policy (ESP). The ESP combines in principle space programs and competences that cut across three levels of governance: the supranational (EU), the international (intergovernmental), and the national. However, since the EU acquired treaty competences on outer space, it is clear that a nascent EUSP has emerged, even if no one yet dares calling it by its name.

Currently, three EU space programs stand out: Galileo, Copernicus, and EGNOS. Galileo is probably the better known and more controversial of the three. Meant to secure European independence from the U.S. global positioning system by putting in orbit a constellation of European satellites, Galileo has been plagued by several problems. One of them was the collapse of the public–private partnership funding scheme in 2006, which nearly killed it. However, instead of marking the end of EUSP, the termination of the public–private partnership served as a catalyst in its favor. Furthermore, research findings indicate that the European Parliament envisioned an EUSP long before the European Commission published its first communication in this regard. This is a surprising yet highly interesting finding because it highlights the fact that in addition to the Commission or the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament is a thus far neglected policy entrepreneur. Overall, the development of the EUSP is an almost ideal case study of European integration by stealth, largely in line with the main principles of two related European integration theories: neofunctionalism and historical institutionalism.

Since EUSP is a relatively new policy, the existing academic literature on this policy is also limited. This has also to do with the degree of public interest in outer space in general. Outer space’s popularity reached its heyday during the Cold War era. Today space, in Europe and in other continents, has to compete harder than ever for public attention and investment. Still, research on European space cooperation is growing, and there are reasons to be optimistic about its future.


  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy
  • World Politics

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