- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

BRUSSELS (AP) European Union officials approved funding yesterday for a rival to the American Global Positioning System satellite navigation system, overcoming cost concerns and U.S. military objections that have delayed the project for over a year.
Transportation ministers released an overdue block of $392 million to fund development until 2006, when the first of 30 planned satellites are to be sent into space.
That's on top of an earlier $88 million in EU money and $485 million from its partner, the European Space Agency.
The EU wants to have its system, dubbed Galileo, up and running in 2008, with private firms sharing the total cost of $3.2 billion.
Galileo backers say it will spur economic growth, as did the Ariane rocket and Airbus jet programs before it.
The European Association of Aerospace Industries this week estimated that developing and operating Galileo would create 100,000 new jobs.
Politics also played an increasingly prominent role, as leaders warned that Europe risked "vassal" status to U.S. technology in space.
Galileo "permits the EU to shake off dependence" on the American GPS, French Transportation Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said after the vote.
EU Transportation Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said yesterday's vote means that "Europe wishes to be present on the international scene … in all aspects of cutting-edge technologies."
Six countries Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Britain had originally balked at Galileo's cost and questioned the economic viability of setting up a commercial competitor to the freely available GPS, the de facto global standard.
Washington also lobbied against Galileo, calling it unnecessary. The Pentagon, which controls GPS, wrote in December that Galileo could interfere with next-generation GPS signals intended for military use.
But Germany signed on to the project shortly before an EU summit this month, citing the "considerable political, strategic and economic importance" of Europe having its own system.
That ensured a majority for yesterday's vote.
Miss De Palacio said the EU would continue its "best cooperation" with U.S. officials to ensure Galileo and GPS are compatible.
"We are ready to do it immediately," she said. "It will lead to the strengthening of both systems."
A U.S. government official said talks that started two years ago with the Europeans would continue this spring when delegations of experts meet in Brussels.
"Now that the ministers have made their decision, we hope to be able to cooperate with Europe to ensure that Galileo is interoperable with GPS and benefits users worldwide," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Miss De Palacio conceded that, although Galileo is billed as a civilian project, its potential military applications made political control necessary.
Each of the 15 EU countries will be represented on a supervisory board, and a separate "security board" will also be established, she said.


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