Securing the future of Europe in space

HR/VP Blog – Space has increasingly become a strategic domain for our security and defence. Without security in space there will be no security on earth. At this year’s European Space Conference, I underlined that we need powerful, EU-level action to safeguard our security in and through space.

 

Every year, the annual space conference brings together the main players in this field from EU institutions, member states, industry, journalism and research. Since the start of my mandate, I have attended every edition, which reflects the importance I attach to the issue of space for Europe’s future and its foreign and security policy.

 

The geo-political competition we see on Earth is projected into space

 

The word ‘strategic’ tends to be over-used, but when it comes to space its use is fully justified. Our lives depend increasingly on what happens there, not ‘just’ for the transport sector, IT, telecom or research, but also for core security and defence issues. Moreover, the geo-political competition we see on Earth is projected into space, resulting in a growing level of threat affecting our security.

Space budgets worldwide have increased by 9% in 2022, to €103 billion, a record high. What’s more, the spending on space in the defence area grew by 16%, to €48 billion. So, space spending is up a lot but spending on space and defence is up by almost twice as much. How people spend their money is usually a good reflection of their priorities and expectations…

In my speech, I made two main points:

First, Russia’s war against Ukraine has highlighted how crucial space assets and services are in security terms. For instance, satellite imagery and communications were (and remain) a game-changer for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the entire population. They provided access to information and situational awareness to help resist the attack. And they kept Ukrainians connected to each other and the outside world.

 

We have seen how the ability to deny the use of space to an adversary is part of modern warfare.

 

We have also seen how the ability to deny the use of space to an adversary is part of modern warfare. Indeed, the night before the invasion started, the satellite-based telecommunication network, VIASAT, was targeted by a cyber-attack. A simple, unsophisticated, malicious code managed to bring down entire parts of a big space communications network, used by the Ukrainian military.

This cyber-attack also had spill over effects inside the EU: wind turbines in one of our member states went down. And it took time to understand the link between the energy infrastructure and the satellite network commanding it.

This example raises key questions:

  • How many pieces of critical infrastructure in the EU depend on space services?
  • And how well are these assets and services protected?

This brings me to the second point that I made: we need to answer these questions and do it at the EU-level.

The war against Ukraine has given us extra motivation to enhance EU security and defence including space, while the Strategic Compass gives us the sense of direction and the concrete proposals. During the past months, we have been working together with Commissioner Breton on a dedicated EU strategy on space security and defence, to be presented in March. It is built around five key work strands:

 

1. Improve our common understanding of space threats

We need to reinforce our capacity to analyse space-based risks, threats and vulnerabilities. And get a better insight on counter-space capabilities and intentions of our competitors.

2. Protect our space infrastructure and make it more resilient

We need to reduce our strategic dependencies in the space sector, protecting supply chains and developing critical space technologies.

3. Develop our capacity to respond to threats

We must use all space tools, organise regular exercises and develop options for solidarity and mutual assistance.

4. Strengthen our space capabilities for security and defence

We need to make full use of space-based assets for security and defence, including the EU SATCEN; strengthen dual-use innovation and invest more in capability development.

5. Cooperate better with our partners

We must continue to promote responsible behaviour in space at multilateral and bilateral level and reinforce cooperation with our closest partners. for example with NATO. The Joint Declaration on EU NATO Cooperation, signed earlier this month, identifies space as one of the new areas of cooperation. Let’s build on that in concrete terms.

 

Security and space are flipsides of the same coin: without security there can be no future in space. And without security in space, there will be no security on Earth.

 

You can read and watch my full speech here and here.