Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Cablegate: Europe's 'stupid' satellite plan driven by French interests

Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system is "stupid", "doomed to failure" and driven by French military interests, the CEO of a large German company involved in the project has claimed.

On Monday (17 January) the board of German satellite firm OHB Technology sacked Mr Berry Smutny after last week's release of the diplomatic cable containing the remarks caused consternation.

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  • Europe as seen from space: Analysts predict Galileo will vastly exceed its original €3.4 billion budget (Photo: Wikipedia)

The revelations will come as a further embarrassment to EU industry commissioner Antonio Tajani who is due to present the commission's mid-term review of the Galileo project on Tuesday afternoon in Strasbourg.

Intended to challenge the dominance of the US-built Global Positioning System (GPS) set up by the Pentagon in the 1980s, Galileo has already attracted widespread controversy due to massive budgetary overspends.

"I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests," Mr Smutny reportedly told US diplomats, according to the October 2009 cable from the US embassy in Berlin, obtained by WikiLeaks and released by Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

Mr Smutny's firm was jointly awarded a €566 million contract to develop 14 satellites for the Galileo system, originally forecast to cost €3.4 billion but recently reported to be heading for a final bill closer to €20 billion.

The project, due to become operational in 2014, is a "waste of EU taxpayers' money", Mr Smutny is documented as saying.

"He claimed the EU desire to develop a redundant but alternative to GPS was spearheaded by the French after an incident during the Kosovo conflict when the US military 'manipulated' GPS to support military operations," the cable read.

"Since this time, he said France has aggressively corralled EU support to invest in Galileo development - something Smutny said France wants to ensure their missile guidance systems are free of any GPS reliance. Smutny added, the irony for German investment in Galileo is that some of France's nuclear missiles are aimed at Berlin," it continued.

Approached by Aftenposten to comment on the cable, the former CEO conceded that he had met US officials but denied making the remarks. In as statement on Monday however, the supervisory board of OHB Technology said it had "passed a unanimous resolution to revoke Mr Smutny's appointment".

Other unrelated sackings caused by the WikiLeaks cables include the former chief of staff to Germany's vice-chancellor Guido Westerwelle, accused of spying for the Americans.

Around 2,000 of the 250,000 cables in the whistleblower site's possession have been released so far, in cooperation with The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel publications. But Aftenposten last month said it had obtained all the diplomatic documents given to WikiLeaks, indicating that it would publish stories based on them independently.

In what could spark a fresh round of revelations, former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer handed data containing account details of 2,000 prominent people to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at a packed press conference in London on Monday.

Mr Assange said the data contained on two disks will reveal corruption and crime in the shadowy world of offshore banking. Mr Elmer, who has given data to Wikileaks before, was fired from Swiss bank Julius Baer in 2002.

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