ESA and the EU

European Union flag
The EU flag flown in space by ESA's Andre Kuipers during his Delta mission

The European Union (EU) and ESA share a common aim: to strengthen Europe and benefit its citizens. While they are separate organisations, they are increasingly working together towards common objectives. Some 20 per cent of the funds managed by ESA now originate from the EU budget.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, whereas the EU is supranational. The two institutions have indeed different ranges of competences, different Member States and are governed by different rules and procedures.

However, in recent years the ties between the two institutions have been reinforced by the increasing role that space plays in supporting Europe’s social, political and economic policies.

The legal basis for the EU/ESA cooperation is provided by a Framework Agreement which entered into force in May 2004. Under this agreement the European Commission and ESA coordinate their actions through the Joint Secretariat, a small team of EC’s administrators and ESA executive. The Member States of the two organisations meet at ministerial level in the Space Council, which is a concomitant meeting of the EU and ESA Councils, prepared by Member States representatives in the High-level Space Policy Group (HSPG).

ESA maintains a liaison office in Brussels to facilitate relations with the European institutions.

A new European dimension

Guaranteeing European access to space

In May 2007, the 29 European countries expressed their support for the European Space Policy in a resolution of the Space Council, unifying the approach of ESA with those of the European Union and their member states.

Prepared jointly by the European Commission and ESA’s Director General, the European Space Policy sets out a basic vision and strategy for the space sector and addresses issues such as security and defence, access to space and exploration.

Through this resolution, the EU, ESA and their Member States all commit to increasing coordination of their activities and programmes and their respective roles relating to space.

Increasing cooperation

Galileo constellation
Galileo constellation

Closer ties and an increase in cooperation between ESA and the EU will bring substantial benefits to Europe by guaranteeing Europe’s full and unrestricted access to services provided by space systems in support to its policies, and encouraging the increasing use of space to improve the lives of its citizens.

Current joint initiatives include the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), which is already operational, the European global navigation satellite system called Galileo, as well as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative (GMES). The EU and ESA also coordinate their research and development efforts, in particular in the area of critical technologies.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, the European Union has an explicit competence in space which calls for the development of a European space programme. The implementation of this programme is expected to entail further cooperation between the EU and ESA.

Raising political awareness

Space Council
ESA Director General at the 4th Space Council in 2007

The need to reinforce Europe’s capabilities in space is becoming ever more apparent as Europeans rely daily on satellites for services in communication, navigation and earth and environment monitoring. In addition, space development foster innovative technology and increase scientific knowledge.

Beyond the development of joint initiatives between the two institutions, the EU has a major role to play in heightening political awareness of the strategic importance of space and in ensuring a regulatory framework to support the development of space activities.

Last update: 1 June 2011

Copyright 2000 - 2014 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved.