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Theresa May with Jean-Claude Juncker at Brussels press conference after Brexit negotiations in 2017

Brexit means that Britain will lose access to two vital EU satellite programmes. They deliver key communications technologies to power  Mrs May’s vision for a 4th  industrial revolution. It’s a failure to join the policy dots.  Has the government lost the signal?

Galileo and the Copernicus are leading edge programmes that deliver the benefit of satellite technology to industries  and consumers on the ground. However, Britain risks losing access to both of them from March next year. 

Galileo provides satellite navigation services. Its applications are used to support all forms of transport - road, rail, sea and air, as well as precision agriculture. It is the only satellite navigation service that is civilian-controlled and not in the hands of a military organisation.

Copernicus provides satellite-based monitoring services of the atmosphere, land, water and forests  to help environmental research. Its services can be applied by policy-makers for planning purposes, as well as development of  applications to help with agriculture.  

Between them Galileo and Copernicus include projects designed to benefit a range of industries including farming, aviation and  maritime.  Mobile phone users can get advanced location-based  services. Safety on train services  and  responses by the emergency services can be improved. Moreover, security monitoring, including border control, can be augmented.

 Both are European Union projects.  Galileo is managed by the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)  Agency.   The Agency  was first  established in 2004, and was set up in its current form under  European Union law in 2010.

The Copernicus project is managed by the European Commission. The space segment of the programme is operated by the European Space Agency, and the ground segment by the European Environment Agency and Member States.

As an EU Member, Britain has been able to participate in both  of these high tech satellite programmes, but Brexit means it will have to leave them. Under the proposed Brexit transition arrangements,  Britain may not participate in any EU programmes, or  take a lead role in any EU-funded organisation. In particular, the EU will no longer trust the UK with sensitive  facilities. This will take effect from 29 March 2019.  

As a consequence, a key facility near Southampton is moving to Spain.  This is the Galileo back-up  site which the UK currently hosts.  The decision to move the facility was taken by the Council of Ministers last July, and the move to Spain announced in January this year.

The interesting question is what this will mean for Britain's proposed post-Brexit industrial policy. Theresa May said in her speech in Davos on 25 January this year  ( as reported by Politico): “ Imagine a world in which self-driving cars radically reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Imagine a world where remote monitoring and inspection of critical infrastructure makes dangerous jobs safer. Imagine a world where we can predict and prevent the spread of diseases around the globe,” adding  “These are the kinds of advances that we could see and that we should want to see.

Well, it’s difficult to imagine such a world without high tech satellite services that provide the very data needed to develop this vision. To take a couple of examples, Galileo provides more accurate location-based services for use in narrow streets and so-called ‘urban canyons’   Copernicus monitors solar radiation and provides health-related data on air quality. 

The loss of British  participation in Galileo and Copernicus means that British industry loses access to this type of new development. And it  will be especially felt by Britain’s satellite  and communications industries, whose engineers have been leaders in the field for many years. It would indeed seem that Mrs May and her advisers are out of signal.


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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

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Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is  a trainer & consultant on Internet governance policy, published author& Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and beyond.  She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012. Iptegrity  offers expert insights into Internet policy (and now Brexit). Iptegrity has a core readership in the Brussels policy community, and has been cited in the media. Please acknowledge Iptegrity when you cite or link.  For more, see IP politics with integrity

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