Today, space is used for countless civil and military applications, which have induced critical dependencies in our highly connected and digitised societies. The digital economy, the fourth industrial revolution, agriculture, transport (across the transport modes – land/water/air), fishing, energy, finance, urban development, telecommunication, environmental monitoring, and the broad security chain from civil protection to security and defence are amongst the space-reliant sectors.  These sectors and others are vulnerable should space-based assets be at risk.

The EU regards outer space as a global common good, to be used for the benefit of all. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty and other UN Treaties on outer space governing international space-related activities constitute the cornerstone of international space law. The EU and its Member States are actively promoting the preservation of a safe, secure and sustainable outer space environment as well as its peaceful use on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis. However, space is nowadays “increasingly congested, contested and competitive” (as underlined by the U.S. National security space strategy of 2011). 

The dual-use nature (meaning for civil or defence/security purposes) of many space-based objects and systems poses challenges when it comes to protecting space assets and identifying threats, distinguishing between innocuous behaviours and potentially threatening ones.  The uncontrolled and uncoordinated growing number of space actors with their dedicated infrastructures due to the combination of cheaper commercial launchers and the rise of private companies and new space powers is leading to a congestion of active assets and spacecraft.

Improving security in and from space is essential, as all States and societies are increasingly reliant on space-based systems and services. The economy, the security, the daily life of contemporary societies are vulnerable, both in space-faring nations and, more broadly, in all countries increasingly using digital technologies.

  • Image
    ISS on orbit

    © Shutterstock

EU Space Policy

The European Union and its Member States, together with the European Space Agency (ESA), have developed strong and unique space capabilities and a European industry, which benefit all countries. Among the EU space flagship programmes, Galileo, the EU’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS), will provide by end 2022 highly accurate global positioning and timing for autonomous and connected cars, railways, aviation and other sectors. Complementing the global systems – such as Galileo or the U.S. GPS – for the European territory, EGNOS provides safe critical navigation services to aviation, maritime and land-based users throughout the EU. The other flagship, Copernicus provides full, free and open Earth observation data covering the whole world. Its six services (land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency and security) help, a.o., in monitoring climate changes, preserving safety at sea, improving our response to natural disasters, allowing farmers to manage their crops better, etc. The EU-SST Framework delivers services monitoring the EU and Member States space assets with the view to prevent and anticipate any collisions or uncontrolled events. Finally, GovSatCom aims at providing secure communications capabilities to governmental users. It could pave the way for a global secure space-based connectivity initiative providing the EU better protection, latency and resiliency.

In April 2021, a regulation establishing the EU Space Programme was adopted, with a budget of 14.8 billion EUR for the years 2021-27. This Space Programme improves and brings existing EU initiatives such as Galileo, EGNOS, Copernicus, EU-SST and GovSatCom under one umbrella. It also introduces new developments, such as the enlargement of the EU-SST programme to a more global Space Situational Awareness (SSA) component to monitor all space threats, risks and hazards. 

Furthermore, the EU Space Programme Regulation has established the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) replacing and expanding the European Agency for Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GSA).

The role of High Representative with regard to space

The High Representative (HR) of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy manages the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/CSDP) aspects of the EU's space activities, and ensures the consistency of the EU's external action in the space domain.

He contributes, in cooperation with the Commission (in particular the DG Defence Industry and Space, DEFIS), to the security aspects of the space components of the EU Space Programme. He collaborates with international partners on space security issues (a.o. through space dialogues and other political dialogues).

The HR also exerts an operational responsibility in relation to possible threats to or through the systems and services deriving from the EU Space Programme. Council Decision (CFSP) 2021/698 tasks the Council and the HR (in the urgency of the situation requires immediate action) to decide on the necessary instructions to the EUSPA or to the relevant appointed security monitoring structure to avert a threat to the security of the Union or of one or more of its Member States or to mitigate serious harm to the essential interests of the Union or of one or more of its Member States arising from the deployment, operation or use of the systems set up and services provided under the components of the Union Space Programme; or in the event of a threat to the operation of any of those systems or the provision of those services.

The High Representative also exerts an operational responsibility in relation to the EU Satellite Centre (SatCen), the EU’s operational geospatial intelligence agency. As stated in Council Decision 2014/401/CSFP, the HR is tasked with the operational direction of the SatCen under the Political and Security Committee (PSC) political guidance, in particular for prioritising requests.

  • Image
    Satellite image of damages at an oil field South Sudan
  • Image
    Carine Claeys - Special envoy for Space / Head of the Space Task Force

    Carine Claeys - Special envoy for Space / Head of the Space Task Force

The Special Envoy for Space and the Secdefpol.5-Space Division

With the view to make the HR involvement possible and coherent, a Special Envoy for Space (SES- presently Ms Carine Claeys) has been nominated and is assisted by the SecDefPol.5-Space Division.

The primary mission of the SES is to implement the HR’s operational responsibilities described above. She can count for that purpose on a 24/7 response team embedded in her Division. 

The SES cooperates with Commission services (in particular DG DEFIS) and contributes to the development of the security aspects of the EU Space Programme as well as all other related activities.

The SES is instrumental in promoting the responsible behaviour in space within the UN framework, in particular within the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). She provides substantive advice on space matters and prepares draft statements, interventions and supportive documents for the multilateral and bilateral EU Delegations, in particular for the EU Delegations in Vienna, Geneva and New York.  

The SES also provides diplomatic advice to the Commission services on their dialogues and negotiations with third States.

3 SOS campaign

Considering the recent development in space, in 2019 the SES  launched the 3SOS campaign, 3SOS standing for Security, Safety and Sustainability of Outer Space but also as thrice SOS emphasising the urgency to act. The campaign aims at building awareness and a common understanding of the main safety, security and sustainability issues in outer space that will provide a fertile soil for diplomatic action.