Making the EU’s economy stronger and more competitive are key responsibilities for Thierry Breton, the European Commission’s chief for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. Within that context, Euronews’ Gregoire Lory spoke to the commissioner about the importance of Europe’s space and digital sectors.
Gregoire Lory, Euronews:
“In terms of the market, technological development and defence, what does the space sector mean for Europe?”
“I would like to remind you that Europe is already a great space power. We have some of the best players in the world, both in the field of launchers and satellites, as well as many start-ups. But it’s also a sector that’s increasingly contested. It is a strategic sector. It needs to be protected and defended for Europeans. We have seen this recently with what happened during a satellite launch which left debris everywhere. This could have endangered our own satellite network, our sovereign network, particularly those that are so important to our daily lives – Galileo, Copernicus.
“For our viewers, Galileo is really what enables us to have satellite positioning. It’s a little known fact, but we have the most powerful network in the world. The word GPS is frequently used, but that’s thanks to Galileo it controls all our satellite positioning systems in Europe, but beyond that, it’s also the most accurate in the world. We will continue to keep this lead. It’s vitally important for self-driving vehicles; it’s very important for all activity, including the use of smartphones and everyday life today.
“Copernicus enables us to see everything that’s happening from space. With images of course, but soon there will be many other things: radar, detection of CO2 emissions. In short, there are many, many things that we can see from space. So I would say we really have two sovereign satellite constellations for Europeans to enable them to protect space.
But we need to go further because there is a lot going on in this area. It is a sector that we need to defend. It’s a sector which is sovereign and autonomous. And so the defence and military side of things are also important for us. So you can see there are many things. This is about industrial activity, it’s about science but it’s also about what we do in the digital world, and then there is also defence. Defence is important for us.
Gregoire Lory, Euronews:
What space strategy will the Commission present next month?
“First of all, we need access to space. We have access to space, we are autonomous, we have very large companies. We have launchers like Ariane and Vega. So we must continue. Obviously, we will continue. We will continue to support these developments. We also need to move towards reusability. We need to move towards major launchers. So we will continue to support this. It is very important. We have real know-how in this area of course. And then there are also smaller launchers – micro launchers. We’ll have satellite networks with small satellites. So new needs are emerging. But access to space and the freedom to access space is absolutely critical for us. Then, of course our strategy is to continue supporting development. So, as I was saying about satellite positioning with Galileo, we have a new generation of satellites coming through that will offer even more precise services, because we can already see with self-driving cars, a difference of 10 centimetres can cause real problems. So we need to bring that down to about one centimetre. This is what we’ll do with the next generation of Galileo satellites.
“I mentioned Copernicus earlier. We will obviously continue to develop it. And new needs are emerging. We are working on a constellation – connectivity via satellite – which will offer, thanks to the new low orbiting LEO satellite technologies, broadband connectivity throughout Europe. This is vitally important because there are still black spots, that are not connected. We saw during lockdown, there was limited coverage in certain parts of Europe, where because everyone was confined to their homes people used the internet a lot – often more than was probably reasonable – and the network wasn’t built for that.
“We came close to disaster, so we need to secure our broadband infrastructure, for space and also against attacks, which are possible, especially with regard to cyber security. We know we need to start thinking about security. It’s vitally important. Security in terms of the communication network, the internet and quantum technologies which are part of the next generation of crypto technologies which will enable us to have maximum security. These will be brought about by this low orbiting network.
“The last aspect about this connected structure is its a north-south network. So we’ll be able to cover not only the European continent but also Africa, given the north south orbit. And so we’ll be able to offer our African friends low cost connectivity across their continent. That’s the second part. Then there’s the third element concerning startups. We want to innovate. We really want to boost this ecosystem. The fourth dimension, which I mentioned earlier, is the military dimension. It is increasingly important and it’s also a question of sovereignty. Obviously, we must protect what happens in space. Of course we can monitor this, but we shouldn’t be naive, we also need to see what’s going on there, including the management of debris – what we call space traffic management. So these are the four dimensions which are going to be very important and which we will talk about in more detail next month in Toulouse.”
Gregoire Lory, Euronews:
Let’s talk about digital platforms. You presented proposals a little over a year ago. The European Parliament has also taken a position. Are you confident about the final content contained in these texts and will it be implemented soon?
“Yes, first of all, it’s a great, great moment because we proposed these texts a year ago. And then a year later, which as you know is a very short time, when it comes to the European institutions – the democratic discussion that takes place between co-legislators. It took a year, less than a year for the Council to vote on the two texts. The Digital Markets Act, which will regulate the economic aspects of these platforms and the Digital Services Act, which will regulate how these platforms affect our lives.
“In other words, it’ll ensure that everything prohibited in the physical world will also be forbidden in the digital space. This is going to mean many things. It means we will reclaim the informational space. The internet. It will ensure the law applies to these platforms, they will be controlled, they’ll no longer be able to do just anything, while it will also preserve freedom expression. So we have found a happy medium.
“This really shows that the co-legislators, that the member states on the one hand, and the Parliament on the other, clearly support this Commission proposal, since the texts that passed are very close to the proposals that were formulated with my teams. So it’s very good.
“I’m confident there is the ambition to get this done. That under the French presidency we’ll be able to find a compromise to enact this quickly so these regulations can come into force as soon as possible. It is something that concerns all of us. In this information space, our safety and the safety of our children are at stake. This is an emergency. But Europe has given itself the means to respond to this emergency. We are the first continent to do so.”