28th Sep 2023

France steals Slovenia's EU presidency limelight

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has added planet Mars to the already long ‘to-do' list he has planned for the EU saying he wants a space policy concentrating on cooperation with the US, particularly in the exploration of this little-known planet.

Speaking in the French Guiana on Tuesday (12 February), Mr Sarkozy, who has a reputation for getting personally involved in a wide range of issues, said the EU should have a "sensible and coherent space policy."

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"I speak for France, and suggest to our European partners, that it is out of the question that we reduce our efforts or our ambitions for the area of space," said the president, according to AFP news agency.

"Because Mars is there and Mars is accessible to the technologies available to humanity, we cannot refuse to attempt this adventure," he continued, speaking to journalists at the launch site for Ariane rockets.

He pointed out that Europe had experts in areas such as transport and technology while the US, which already has a Mars exploration programme, had the "technical and scientific competences".

"I am convinced that an exploration programme can only be global, without exclusivity or appropriation by one nation or another... Each will be able to take part with their capabilities, their strengths and their choices," he said, according to Reuters.

While emphasizing that he did not want Europe to be in competition with the US, Mr Sarkozy also referred to military space policy, which he said is the price for "strategic autonomy" and "freedom to manuoeuvre for European governments."

In an aside to France's nuclear strength, the French president said there should be a "decided rise" in military space budget. He spoke particularly of surveillance and spy satellites, for which the EU is strongly dependent on the US.

Despite Mr Sarkozy's vision, Europe has in the past been slow to commit to itself to space.

Its flagship satellite project, known as Gallileo, was agreed only at the eleventh hour last year after protracted wrangling over how it should be financed.

To be in place by 2013, five years after originally planned, it is supposed to end the EU's reliance on Washington's Global Positioning System.

Meanwhile, the European Commission early last year proposed a collective space policy in the EU but the communication only set out a loose set of aspirations in the area, rather than concrete measures.

But reticence in other member states about certain EU policies has not thwarted Mr Sarkozy's enthusiasm in the past.

In what is expected to be a very busy French EU presidency in the second half of this year, Mr Sarkozy has said he wants Europe to have an immigration policy, a defence policy, an energy policy and an environment policy by the end of 2008.


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