Space cooperation: EU-AU forge closer ties
As part of the strategic partnership between the European Union and the African Union, Brussels hosted the sixth meeting of the joint expert group for science, information society and space (JEG8) on 15 September. Experts and high officials took this opportunity to review the partnership and to prepare its second action plan (2011-2013).
The gathering was followed by a high level political discussion on cooperation. This was chaired jointly by Antonio Tajani, European commission vice president in charge of industry and entrepreneurship, and professor Jean-Pierre Ezin, human resources, science and technology commissioner of the African Union. Also there, were Sabine Laruelle, Belgian science minister, Jean-Jacques Dardain, director general of the European Space Agency and Lars Prahm, director general of the European organisation for the exploitation of meteorological satellites (EUMETSAT), among others.
Space for the African citizen
High level political, scientific and industry officials participated in the “Space for the African citizen” conference held on 16 September and organised by the AU Commission, the Belgian high representative for space policy and the European Commission.
In his speech, vice president Tajani underlined that “the conference demonstrates the relevance of space technologies and services as a tool to favour development and growth, to facilitate good governance of resources and to contribute to the implementation of policies in various fields such as food security, health and education.”
He expressed his own personal commitment and that of the European Commission to “strengthen cooperation between Europe and Africa in order to give African citizens better access to space services and to build the capacity of space institutes. My aim is to make both African and European citizens realise the important part space has to play in facing up to today’s major challenges. Space is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It is only when this is fully understood that we can move on to the next stage where African citizens benefit from space services.”
Space-related technology has become indispensable, it has slipped into our daily lives, at times imperceptibly, explained commissioner Ezin. “Our daily cash machine transactions, mobile phone conversations, global positioning systems and radio navigation all depend on space.”
According to Mr Ezin, Africa is not exploiting the full potential of space resources, especially where sustainable development is concerned. The action plan for science and technology in Africa, he underlined, advocates the launch of an ambitious African space programme which will contribute to the management of natural resources and to the preservation of biodiversity.
Two key initiatives, namely the pan-African university space science institute and the future African space agency, have been at the centre of debate, as well as the contribution of space technologies and their applications to Africa’s overall development.
African space agency in the pipeline
This would place Africa firmly among those nations which master space applications and in doing so stem the flow of Africa’s best researchers to other continents.
Vice president Tajani welcomed the recent decision taken by African communications ministers to have the AU commission lead a feasibility study on the creation of an African space agency. “This would place Africa firmly among those nations which master space applications and in doing so stem the flow of Africa’s best researchers to other continents,” he underlined.
The agency would provide significant added value by closely coordinating African space activities and by encouraging local capacity building. Commissioner Ezin pointed out that South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria have already developed their own space programmes and have adequate infrastructures. Some countries have even created their own national space agency.”
The European commission, the European space agency and EUMETSAT all indicated their readiness to offer the benefit of their expertise and experience in support of the project.
Pan-African university space science institute
The setting up of this institute will allow for the promotion of space science in Africa by strengthening cooperation between universities themselves and between universities and industry. The European commission will be able, via its research programmes, to put into place scientific partnerships. These would serve to strengthen the initiative, thanks to the experience of the European institute of innovation and technology.
Our daily cash machine transactions, mobile phone conversations, global positioning systems and radio navigation all depend on space.
“This African initiative deserves support from Europe. The future space science institute will in time become a centre of excellence, training up engineers and scientists who can then feed into Africa’s national space agencies and, of course, into the future space agency of the African continent,” underlined vice president Tajani.
Commissioner Ezin declared, “time has come for Africa to give itself the means to assure high level training and research, creating technological connections between countries and regions, and with other continents.” Consultations are underway “to set up the pan-African university space science institute in the next few months in southern Africa.”
On EU-Africa cooperation regarding observation of the Earth and satellite navigation, participants highlighted the importance of the GMES-Africa initiative (global monitoring for environment and security). Launched in December 2007, at the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon, this initiative aims to meet the needs of African users in areas such as climate change, water resource management and food security. A GMES action plan could be adopted at the EU-Africa summit in November in Tripoli (Libya) and finalised in the spring of 2011.
The AEGOS project (African-European georesources observation system) and the extension of EGNOS (Europe’s first satellite navigation system) to Africa were also considered. Vice president Tajani underlined that while Africa today only represents 3% of global air traffic, it accounts for 19% of air traffic accidents. “With EGNOS, air travel would become safer, especially during take-off and landing. The economic benefit of this in Africa is estimated at more than one billion euros!”
The outcome of the high level meeting and political discussion, as well as the conference conclusions, will be communicated at the EU-Africa summit in November.