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[SSI Brief] A Universal Good? Norm-driven priorities in European Space Policy

June 1, 2016


Indra Ekmanis

Karlheinz Kreuzberg, Head of ESA Director General’s Cabinet (left), signing the Cooperation Agreement with Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando MP, Chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology. Behind them are Nicholas Sammut, Vice Chairman & CEO of the Malta Council for Science & Technology (left), and the Hon. Lawrence Gonzi, Prime Minister of Malta.
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International studies perspectives on space policy of major powers

The European Union is broadly considered to act as a normative power, seeking to promote its values, both within its member states and beyond its geographical borders. This emphasis on priorities driven by concern for the health and welfare of people and the planet surpasses the confines of the Earth and extends into Europe’s approach to space. European space priorities are closely linked with normative goals promoted by the European Union. How does this translate into its engagement with space industry?

ESA Member States

ESA Member States (dark gray) & Cooperating States (light gray)ESA


European space policy is regulated and mediated by more than one international organization. The European Space Agency (established 1975) coordinates a joint approach to Europe’s presence in space, engaging national space programs and larger European priorities in its mission to promote cooperation in space exploration and technology. Not all European Union member states are part of the 22-member ESA, but other EU states, as well as Canada, engage through Cooperation Agreements. In 2007, ESA and the European Union signed the European Space Policy, drafted jointly by the European Commission and the ESA. This unifies the European approach to space and makes the role of the European Commission in drafting space priorities significant.


ESA member states are required to contribute (proportionally, based on GDP) to the General Budget and Science Program, which funds the basic operating activities of the ESA. Member states can choose to contribute to optional programs, such as space exploration and telecommunications initiatives. The European Commission also funds advances in European space technology and programs. This has largely focused on flagship programs Galileo (satellite navigation) and Copernicus (Earth observation and the world’s fourth-largest producer of raw data). Between 2014-2020, the EU plans to invest EUR 12 billion in these programs and Horizon 2020 space research (an initiative to secure Europe’s global competitiveness by taking ideas “from the lab to the market”).

Norm-directed policy:

Both the ESA and the European Commission use highly normative rhetoric in their policy documents. The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth feeds into Europe’s approach to space, which focuses on scientific progress, growth and employment. European space engagement is intrinsically linked to the benefits it can provide humanity and, specifically, European citizens. European space policy also highlights the role of space exploration, data collection and business innovation not only for industrial growth, but specifically for addressing local and world-wide socio-ecological challenges. Policy documents produced by the ESA and European Commission directly identify the issue areas of: climate change, scarce resources, agriculture and fisheries, health, aging populations, development assistance, humanitarian aid, crisis response, security, transportation and informations technology.

ESA mission priorities:

ESA launch missions since the 1960s have focused on space exploration, Earth observation, equipment technology, telecommunications and micro technology. An increase in Earth/environment-focused missions since 2000 may reflect a normative priority of addressing climate change. ESA and the European commission highly prioritize telecommunications technology, indicating that communications is a niche Europe is seeking to develop and through which it can promote its space-related industry.

European Space Agency Mission data

Chart complied by author from ESA Mission data

Values in business:

To develop Europe’s competitiveness in space solutions to socio-ecological issues, Europe is highly committed to supporting Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises. They see SMEs as the competitive driving force of Europe’s role in the space market and seek to promote their contributions to the industry.

European space policy-makers prioritize a regulatory framework for their internal market that breaks down barriers to data access and sharing. Their flagship programs (Galileo and Copernicus) are dedicated to providing free and diverse data to promote technological innovations. Europe’s investment in open data through their space programs open market opportunities for SMEs developing downstream services and applications for the benefit of EU citizens and wider socio-ecological challenges.

Looking ahead:

European space priorities and cooperative policies are intended to develop Europe’s market share in the space industry, with a particular focus on encouraging the participation of SMEs in this sector’s growth. By providing access to space-born data, European space-based investments anticipate contributions to innovation in value-added services and applications for the benefit of European citizens, as well as worldwide socio-ecological challenges. Key policy indicators to follow include whether there is space for SMEs beyond Europe to actively participate in the development of Europe’s space priorities, and whether the European norms-based approach — with a focus on space exploration’s direct benefits to its citizens – impact the way ESA and the European Commission interact with industry.

Works referenced:

DG Grow Directorates I & J. (2015). Roadmap: A space strategy for Europe. European Commission. Retrieved from

European Commission. (n.d.). The space industry – European Commission. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

European Commission. (n.d.). What is Horizon 2020? – Horizon 2020 – European Commission. Retrieved May 21, 2016, from

ESA. (n.d.-a). New Member States. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

ESA. (n.d.-b). Welcome to ESA. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

Space – European Commission. (n.d.-b). Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

Orban, V. (2015, February 23). Space Economy Trends in the United States and Europe. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.