It’s all going a bit ‘Mean Girls’ over at the European Commission, as a German-led clique is opposing a British request for continued participation in the Galileo satellite program following Brexit.
While the UK has the support of some EU allies, who back their proposal for unrestricted post-Brexit security and industrial access to the €10bn program, the EU Commission, backed by Germany, is adamant that London is given no further access to the program once it leaves the bloc.
The Commission’s stance will see the UK, along with other non-EU countries, apply to use the Public Regulated Service (PRS), a key element of the Galileo system. PRS is a navigation and timing signal intended for use by government agencies, armed forces and “blue light” services, and is designed to be available and robust even in times of crisis.
The Times reports that the leader of the group opposing further British involvement is the EC’s secretary-general Martin Selmayr, who outlined, in a letter last month to the UK’s ambassador to the EU, the end of British participation in Galileo ‘without proper consultation’.
German-born Selmayr and officials inside the Commission also have the backing of the German government.
The Galileo program is a €10 billion effort led by European Space Agency to develop a high-precision positioning system similar to the US-built GPS or the Russian GLONASS.
British participation has seen €1.4 billion invested in Galileo with 13 UK businesses involved in sensitive work on the project, such as coded communications.
A key reason for the EU to develop its own satellite was to cut down on the reliance of other nations for global positioning as it could be cut off or delayed by their operators.
British officials now want continued access to codes for the encrypted navigation system for government and military users.
According to the Financial Times, EU officials opposed to the British request maintain that they are merely following the rules agreed by the UK and others upon the launch of Galileo in 2003, which excludes third countries from the exchange of secure information.
This theoretically allows the EU to switch off the military component of the service at will.
However, not all member states are giving such backing to the German push. France, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Baltic states all oppose the UK being kicked out of the program, believing that this would damage security co-operation after Brexit.
“It is not acceptable that security is sacrificed to a clique that wants to use Brexit as what they call a ‘pedagogical exercise’ in showing the benefits of EU membership and the cost of leaving,” a European diplomat told the Times.
“Germany particularly is taken with this idea. Other countries with greater security interests, like France or Spain, are more pragmatic.”
The British government warned that excluding the UK from Galileo, contravenes the withdrawal deal agreed by Theresa May and the EU in December.
In documents seen by the BBC, officials warn: “Excluding industrial participation by UK industry in security-related areas risks delays of up to three years and additional costs of up to €1 billion.”
“It will not be straightforward to effectively fulfill all Galileo security work elsewhere.”
The document also suggested that the UK could seek to recover its €1.4bn investment in the program and some of the value in the satellite assets.
Earlier this week, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the launch of the UK’s first ever Defence Space Strategy to counter the “emerging threats” posed by space.
Williamson added that ministry review of the UK’s contribution to the EU’s Galileo satellite programme was underway that would “plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.”
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