What potential for a European Space Policy?

Professor Thomas Hoerber
Ecole Superieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers

The Research Idea

The research group will consider the present use of space technologies, its benefits and the costs to the EU. The purpose is to take stock of the existing space infrastructures; what purpose they serve; where there are difficulties in making these space assets useful; and where there is potential to achieving this objective through further European integration of space services. This may also provide the opportunity for a sociological study of behaviour and motivations of key drivers in European space policy, i.e. can a European space policy be inspirational; where do the sources of such inspiration lie; do such idealistic motivations influence decision makers in their work on space policy.
Then, the potential of space policy for the future of the European integration process will be questioned. Could a European space policy become an element of a growing European polity? And if so, how should this process be governed? These questions will be answered in 3 working groups:
WG 1: The Past: The historical development of Space policy and the analogy to maritime history
WG 2: The Future: A European identity and the impact a European Space policy may have on it
WG 3: The Present: Current space application in the EU – difficulties and potential

In order to answer these research questions interdisciplinarity is necessary and the following disciplines will be consulted: European Studies, Political Science, History, Economics, as well as Law to a minor extent.


The trigger for this research network was initially curiosity by all participants with regard to European space policy. All have European Studies, International Relations or other Social Sciences or Humanities backgrounds. Space policy is not yet an important field of research in these disciplines. The interest of practitioners and policy makers in this research is, however, encouraging. Participants in one of the five past ESSCA Space Policy workshops came from the European, the Italian and French space agency and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). They appreciated the research done in this group, because the link between the rather technical aspects of space policy and their political relevance, e.g. European integration, is still underdeveloped. Therefore, this research group will build the bridge between both sides of space policy and will continue to research its impact on European integration.
In addition, hardly any attention has been given to space policy in it own right. It features in security studies, for example in Mario Telo (2006). But only a few academic contributions are entirely dedicated to space policy, such as M. Sheehan (2007). Other works discuss space policy in the international context, e.g. Kazuto Suzuki (2003), and J. Logsdon, J. C. Moltz, (2007), Damon Coletta, T. Pilch, (2009). However, even those are not necessarily focussed on the European aspect of space policy which is a serious gap in the European Studies literature that is only slowly beginning to be filled, e.g. C. Venet, B. Baranes (2012), or T. Hoerber, P. Stephenson (2015)

The Focus

Thus, the main innovation will be the analysis of space policy from a European Studies perspective, giving predominantly technical analyses of space policy a theoretical underpinning which is currently missing. Such European Space research will have relevance for European space industry and thus for the European economy. It may become important for the self-perception of European society rather than national societies and it will thus have relevance for the development of a European culture, perhaps even contribute to a growing European identity.
The following research questions will be considered: What contribution can space policy make to the European integration process? How is space policy perceived by European institutions? How do they handle it? And for what purpose are they engaging in it? Could a European space policy even become an element of European identity? And what are the historical roots and possible comparisons which could be used for a future European space policy? These are classical European studies questions which, by contrast, are often neglected by publications concerned essentially with space matters. European space policy has, however, acquired a political dimension. The two most important examples are the creation of the Space Councils where the European Space Agency and the EU merge their ministerial Councils, and, secondly, the Galileo project of a global navigation system which now is financed out of the EU budget. This legitimisation by the European Parliament shows the growing political importance of space affairs.

Theoretical Novelty

Here is clear evidence that space policy is a nascent field of interest in European politics which also warrants more serious consideration from the academic angle of European studies. And vice versa, a European space policy could well suggest answers to the most pressing questions as to Europe’s ultimate goal and what shape the great venture of European integration will take in the future. Ultimately, such an analysis also poses the question as to a European identity, which is evidently vital for a European self-understanding, but which is also still unanswered. Through the lens of space policy European Studies theories may be developed further allowing them to answer the really pressing question of the purpose and destination of European integration.
Finally, this research group is also meant to connect research done in the field of space policy with this developing field in European Studies, which marks this endeavour as an interdisciplinary project, i.e. bridging separate fields of science/disciplines to achieve breakthroughs. In the best tradition of European integration, this should be a win-win situation, because serious academic research in European Studies cannot be carried out without technical expertise in space policy. And the developing European space policy is in serious need of the kind of structuring that could, for example, be provided by the effective application of European integration theories.


The participants have always come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Different national perspectives have always enriched the network. In addition, there has been a growing participation from practitioners and political decision makers. Against this background, interdisciplinarity comes naturally. However, different perspectives must be made to work together. European Studies is ideally suited as an analytical lens, because it is a discipline which is by definition interdisciplinary. The chance the applicant sees is that these links into the industry, towards political decision making bodies and also those across national boundaries need to grow in order to really allow for a European perspective which is the purpose of the proposed research network.

One may deduce from the previous sections that a research network already exists and that some progress in the described mission of the network has already been made. This network has been run for the past five years on a very limited budget and therefore with rather limited possibilities of further development. This is one major reason for this application in that there is the chance that this research network might develop into an expanding research community in the field of European space policy. Thus, it provides the added value of building on established expertise and the network of researchers that goes with it, and would allow that network to develop its full potential.

Work Plan

Through organising a workshop, the network will be further extended. Its expertise will be made available to a wider academic, political and general public. It will serve an academic audience in that it will continue to tender applications for special issues of the best European Studies journals and edited books with leading publishing houses. It will reach out to practitioners and policy makers by inviting them to events and encouraging them to contribute their expertise to produce co-authored publications. Practitioners are also essential for dissemination in their respective sector of activity.
The most important collaboration and dissemination tool will be a dedicated website, which will also serve as an archive of the network’s activities. The website will also be used as coordinating tool for participants. Knowledge can be shared via the archival function and research meetings of the working groups can be organised via the website. The website, the workshops and participation in reputable international conferences will finally allow for knowledge exchange and the development of a joint research agenda, for which the working groups already provide a suitable framework. Student assistants may facilitate the administrative running of the working groups and help in dissemination tasks, such as the website.

  • June 2016: setting up of the project website
  • October 2016: two day workshop; first day separate sessions of the working groups; second day joint session on European space policy
  • End of 2016, publication of special issue or edited book
  • End of 2016, application for follow-up funding


Evidently, the research results will be presented at the best international conferences in European Studies. Panels will be organised for the members of the research network. Individual research results will also be disseminated in top-ranking peer-reviewed academic journals or top academic editors for book publications to which the participating researchers have already good links.

Beyond the current network of policy makers and practitioners, a deepening of collaboration with agencies and industries will be attempted. It has been stressed that the main potential of this research group is build a bridge between the academic European Studies community and politicians and practitioners which are beneficiaries of European space policy, but focus almost exclusively on technological and industrial aspects. It could be envisaged to introduce a component of Social Sciences and Humanities input into large-scale research and development project and produce an added value for the technological research in space.

Academically, the objective of the proposed research group will be to develop a more coherent narrative of space policy in European integration, importantly by taking on new areas, such as a stronger historical perspective, and by taking in new perspectives, e.g. professional insights or other national perspective.

This group will hope to produce explanations of how European integration works and what role a European space policy might play in that. It is really the connection between the two issues which is new and promising, for it might give European integration a new drive and space policy a purpose in Europe.

  • Dr Paul Stephenson Maastricht University
  • Dr Emmanuel Sigalas Institute for Higher Education, Vienna
  • Dr Iraklis Oikonomou
  • Dr Harald Köpping European Parliament
  • Rik Hansen Leuven University
  • Dr Veronica La Regina Italian Space Agency
  • Dr Kai-Uwe Schrogl European Space Agency
  • Dr Lorna Ryan City University
  • Dr Geoffrey Edwards University of Cambridge
  • Pieter Van Nes European Commission