How should the relationship between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA) evolve in the future? The 27 do not seem to have the slightest idea for now but they agree on the need to give thought to the matter. The ministers adopted conclusions at the Competitiveness Council, on 19 February(1), asking the European Commission to work with the Director-General of the Space Agency - French national Jean-Jacques Dordain - to draw up "common proposals" for decisions by the competent bodies by the end of 2014.

The issue was raised in a Commission communication presented last November, which outlines three scenarios: the ESA could become an EU agency, it could be placed under EU authority in its capacity as an intergovernmental organisation (on the model of the European Defence Agency), or relations between the two could be rethought in a sort of institutional status quo. These are longer-term scenarios since the Commission sets a target date of 2020-2025. It intends to develop them further in a communication to be released by the end of 2013.

An initial Council discussion, in December 2012, did not bring to light any clear tendency among the states. That was confirmed in the 19 February conclusions. Broadly, the member states could be grouped into three categories: those in...

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