ESA Faces the Limits of Expansion, Growing Power of EU

Posted by Doug Messier on February 26, 2013, at 7:45 am in News

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

At the European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial meeting on Nov. 20-21 in Naples, there was a new flag flying outside. The red-and-white flag of Poland, which had joined space agency the day before, was raised among those of ESA’s other 19 member states.

Poland became the third — and wealthiest — former Eastern Bloc nation to join ESA behind the Czech Republic and Romania. The nation’s ascendance brought the number of full ESA member states to 20 from the original 10 countries that created the space agency in 1975. Canada is an associate member.

Ten other European nations, nine of which have cooperative agreements with ESA, attended the quadrennial ministerial meeting as observers with hopes of eventually joining the space agency as full members. Behind them, there is another group of 10 countries — most of which are still emerging from the fall of communism two decades ago — that could one day join ESA.

The possible expansion of the space agency to 30 or even 40 members representing 700 million Europeans raises is an exciting prospect. ESA has successfully pooled the collective talents of Europeans to create a world-class space agency. It also has brought broad practical benefits to the European people and helped to raise up the technology levels of poorer nations on the continent.

However, future expansion also raises some daunting questions. Many of the prospective members are quite poor and under developed. They would offer little additional funding for ESA’s budget (currently $5.38 billion) or much in the way of technical expertise. Another key issue is whether the space agency would be able to continue function effectively under its current one-nation, one-vote rules as more nations join.

The other major issue looming over the space agency involves the European Union, which under a framework agreement now contributes more funding to ESA’s budget than any individual member state. The EU is using its growing clout to propose that the independent space agency be brought under its control.

Read more: ESA Faces the Limits of Expansion, Growing Power of EU | Parabolic Arc.

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