Britain threatens to "walk away" from Galileo, if denied full access

  • Mihai Turcanu
  • 14.6.2018 14:06

The June 13 decision of the majority of the European Space Agency Council in favour of moving ahead with the next round of contracts for the €10 bn Galileo global navigation satellite system locked out the British aerospace companies, as, due to Brexit and under current EU rules, UK-based companies will be blocked from bidding for security elements of the tender. The decision has caused an uproar in Britain, whose Science Minister Sam Gyimah stated that under such circumstance, London was "obliged to walk away", and develop a rival satellite. 

Previously, Mr Gymah asked the EU's commissioner for space, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, to delay the deliberations on the next round of procurements for Galileo until after the Brexit negotiations would have addressed the status of the UK based aerospace companies in the project. The UK hoped to be able to use its veto right in the ESA Council to block the tender, but the EC's decision to bear all liabilities of procurement simplified the procedure to a simple majority required. The British press reported that all 27 EU members supported the EC's position that once UK leaves the EU, it cannot continue to be part of the project on the same basis as before and that in spite of its previous massive investment in Galileo, it could only be granted the status of a third party. Otherwise, believes the EC, the “strategic autonomy” principle would be compromised if the EU would grant the UK an equal access to the development of the secure military-grade elements.

As a result, Britain whose stated position is that it regards its full participation in Galileo as a 'test case' for close cooperation on security with the EU, accused the EC of damaging this desideratum by forcing through the ESA vote without waiting for the EU-UK negotiations to come to a conclusion. The UK has also dismissed as laughable the suggestions that its participation in Galileo on an equal basis would constitute a security threat to the EU.  Indeed, financially Britain is NATO's second largest contributor to the collective Euro-Atlantic security, while it is actively participating in NATO's deterrence and air-police missions in Eastern Europe. There is a strong suspicion in Britain that the EC's approach on Galileo, and on the future EU-UK security cooperation in general, is rather directed at punishing London for leaving the EU and aiming to make an example out of it, rather than at pursuing practical goals. In this regard, UK's Brexit Minister, David Davis stated that that the EU has adopted an approach whereby it is "shooting itself in the foot to prove that the gun works".

About author: Mihai Turcanu

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