Speaking at the opening of the Space Green Paper conference held in Brussels on 6 March 2003, former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene said, "It is very important that space be recognised at the highest political levels, and that it be included explicitly in the next European Treaty." Dehaene is currently serving as Vice-Chairman of the European Convention, the body charged with overseeing the drafting of the next Constitutional Treaty.
The European Treaty of the Union constitutes a binding legal framework, setting the boundaries within which the European Union establishes and implements its policies. But as Europe continues to grow and change, the rules that govern it must change too. It is the inherent flexibility of the Treaty process that has underpinned the construction of Europe for over fifty years. The task of drafting a new Treaty is that of the European Convention.
Space stands on its own
"We would like to bring space out from behind the more global Science Policy where it is currently hidden," says Convention Vice-Chairman Dehaene. "This would reflect the true importance of space, which I believe we are all coming to recognise."
In addition to mentioning explicitly the ongoing exploration and exploitation of space as one of the Union's objectives, the current current draft text includes the concept of 'shared competencies'. "In certain areas, the Union will share areas of competence with Member States," explained Dehaene, "meaning that where the Union has not exercised or ceases to exercise its competence the Member States may exercise theirs. Space is one such area. So, while the Union will implement programmes of research and technological development in space, this will not prevent Member States from pursuing their own space activities."
The European Convention
The European Convention is charged with proposing ways of adapting and improving the Union's institutional and political framework, paving the way to the adoption of a new Constitutional Treaty.
The Convention includes representatives of the Heads of State and Parliaments of Member States and Candidate Countries, as well as members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. Its meetings, which are open to the public, are held once a month at the European Parliament in Brussels. When it concludes its deliberations later this year, the Convention will submit its proposals to the European Council, made up of the Heads of State or Government of Member States.
Addressing today's concerns in space
There are several reasons for including space in the future Treaty. First, space is, by its very nature, extra-territorial and, as such, it calls for human resources and financial support that go beyond purely national constraints. In addition, space presents unique opportunities for the development of a broad range of highly beneficial civil and public services, including environmental monitoring, navigation and observation services as well as defence- and security-related services. A pan-European political framework for space activities would help to focus and rationalise Europe's space activities, providing a common vision and a common set of rules.
The Space Green Paper
The European Commission's Green Paper on European Space Policy calls specifically for the inclusion of a European Space Policy within the next Treaty of the Union. Aimed at stimulating discussion on this and other space-related issues, the Green Paper process will entail a series of consultation events, each focussing on a specific question of critical importance in the space debate. Readers can also contribute their views directly via the online forum.