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Brussels politicos: More cash for Galileo, pronto

'Indispensable strategic tool'

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Galileo, the rolling European satnav project fracas, has hit the headlines again as parliamentarians in Brussels demand extra funds for the coming year.

Thus far, Galileo consists of little more than an orbiting placeholder, thrown up hastily to hold onto critical spectrum. However, it is planned to become a world-girdling satnav system to rival - or exceed - the US military's GPS in reliability and quality.

Originally, Galileo was to be a public-private partnership, but the private sector saw few chances for revenue in a world where the GPS civil signal is free and refuses to stump up much cash. Participating nations agreed in principle that public funds would make up the shortfall, but remain split on how this is to be achieved.

Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands would like to channel the rescue funds via the European Space Agency (ESA), which would result in a Galileo not under Brussels' control. In that case, the system would probably be entirely civil in nature, as the ESA has no aspirations to be a government.

Other EU nations led by France would prefer that the Galileo topup cash come via the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. The EC says this could be achieved using unspent farm subsidies, involving no extra money. However, the end result would be a Galileo which was a tool of EU strategic policy, just as GPS is for America.

Now, AFP reports that deputies in the EU parliament have endorsed this second roadmap during planned debates.

"Parliament cannot accept jeopardising Galileo... which is an indispensable strategic tool," said French socialist MEP Catherine Guy-Quint.

"Parliament is asking for this project to be run properly and that the funding shortfalls should be found from the community budget," added Finnish Liberal Kyosti Virrankoski.

The deputies scratched out the current planned figure of €151m for Galileo in the 2008 EU budget. This sum was set in July, at which point the agreement for public funds to replace private was only just firmed up at national-ministerial level.

Now the EU reps want the EC to rewrite its budget plans for the next few years and pull forward an extra €739m to get Galileo rolling in earnest. ®

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