European context

The European Union

Against the background of the Lisbon Strategy, Belgium is committed to earmarking 3% of its GNP to research and development by 2010. The aim is also to create a European Research Area where the research activities of the Commission and the various Member States are harmonised. The ERA-net, in particular, is regarded as an instrument towards this end under FP6 (the sixth Framework Programme). The aim of the ERA-net is to boost cooperation between national research councils and those providing financial support for research.

The European Commission issues regular statements about the state of play with the preparations for FP7. The 6 April 2005 proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and the Council concerning FP7 provides for a programme covering the 2007-2013 period. It is based on the principle of "Building the European Research Area of knowledge for growth". The budget requested is EUR 73 billion, twice as much as for FP6. One of the key aims is lending support to a whole series of research activities carried out as part of cross-border cooperation, ranging from collaborative projects and networks to the coordination of research programmes.
More specifically, earth observation research will lend support following themes included in the proposal for FP7: food, agriculture and biotechnology – the environment – safety and space.

The proposal to introduce a European Constitution assigned the European Union responsibility for space policy (shared with the Member States). The European Commission proceeded on 11 November 2003 to adopt a "White Paper on the European space policy". The Commission opted for two key projects: GALILEO and GMES. Cooperation with the ESA was strengthened as a result of concluding a ESA/EC Framework Agreement, creating a "Space Council", a joint secretariat and a "High Level Space Policy Group".

The GMES initiative

The GMES initiative is one of the key stimuli within Europe for earth observation developments. GMES or Global Monitoring for Environment and Security is a joint initiative of the ESA and the European Union. The project sets its sights on the creation, by 2008, of an independent, sustainable, European operational monitoring capacity for the environment and (civil) security at regional level and global level in support of the European policy.

Key components of GMES focus on:

  • monitoring the environment and climate in order to observe international treaties and protocols;
  • monitoring the status of the environment at regional level;
  • lending support to sustainable development and providing assistance during humanitarian and natural disasters.

A key role within this initiative obviously is information derived from data acquired by the VEGETATION instrument and its successors.

Against this background, the ESA Council of Ministers announced in November 2001 its approval of the Earthwatch GMES Services Element (GSE) programme. The programme seeks to create a number of service centres that are each responsible for a GMES theme. Belgium is currently tasked with consolidating the GSE GMFS (Global Monitoring for Food Security) and is involved with Coastwatch (coastal monitoring), GUS (urban services), RESPOND (humanitarian aid) and Land (urban services, coastal monitoring, water, soil and agro-environment).

GMES also enjoys support under the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), within the thematic priorities "Aeronautic and space" and "Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems". Belgian research teams are involved with 10 or so FP6 project consortia. One of the FP7 priority themes "Safety and Space" includes the aim of financing space research in support of GMES.

GMES is currently in the implementation phase (2004-2008). In this connection, the ESA is preparing new satellite missions, called "Sentinels", in order to cater for European earth observation data requirements. Belgian companies and research institutions have to consolidate their fields of expertise in order to be able to take part in these missions.

The third "Space Council", on 28 November 2005 gave the all-clear for a gradual strategy for applying the GMES programme. This first of all involves the deployment of the following fast-track services: emergency response, land and marine monitoring. The pilot phase for these operational services is due to get underway in 2008 at the latest. Other services will be deployed during a second phase.

Specific ESA programmes

Apart from Earthwatch GMES, the ESA also runs other relevant programmes in which Belgium participates:

  • The EOEP (Earth Observation Envelope Programme) is responsible for deploying the ESA's Earth Explorer missions, funding the operation of other missions, the development of instruments and support for market developments. The programme prepares missions for monitoring the earth's surface, including the initial phases of joint missions with EUMETSAT;
  • The DUE (Data User Element) programme aimed at developing user-oriented earth observation products;
  • The EOMD (Earth Observation Market Development) programme for lending support to the European industrial EO services sector;
  • The Prodex (PROgramme for the Development of Scientific EXperiments) programme where Belgian research projects in the field of atmosphere chemistry and climatology, plus the development of instruments, are funded.