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European Space Conference: Opening speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell


Ladies and gentlemen, 

Representatives of the German and Swedish government, of the European Space Agency (ESA),

I am really happy to be here with you today. This is for me one of the most pleasant moments of my work in Brussels. I know how important is space and how important is the work you are doing. 

This is a high-level event that gathers stakeholders in the European space sector. It has become one of the main events on space in the European community. 

I have to thank the organiser, Joëlle [Vanderauwera, Co-Founder of Business Bridge], who has been, for 15 years, pushing for this event to take place, organising it, [and] gathering all of us here together. 

Here, there are the decision-makers, emerging leaders from the European policy-making, industry, European institutions – I represent them –, Ministers responsible for space, heads of space agencies, and chiefs of industry. 

The subject you have chosen for this year’s Conference is very appropriate: security. 

One year ago, we were just on the eve of war. We did not know – well, we were more or less sure that this was going to happen – but now we are in the middle of a war. So, security [and the] security of Europe in the space [domain] is a very timely subject.

I already had the pleasure to take part in this Conference in person in 2020 and 2022, and – thanks to COVID-19 – by video message in 2021.

The purpose of my intervention is to highlight the current geopolitical context of space, its relevance for the security and defence perspective. Remember that I am in charge of building the European defence capabilities. And explain the efforts that we have been doing at the European Union in this domain – the domain of space, naturally, in the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The most important deliverable which is the Space Strategy for Security and Defence which we, at the [European] External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission, together with my friend and colleague [Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton have been working in the past few months.

This Strategy was called by the Strategic Compass, has been consulted with Member States and its adoption as a Joint Communication will be taking place in March.

This is the résumé or the guidelines for my speech. Once again, [I am] very happy to be here. Since I started my mandate as High Representative, I have always been here because I am convinced of the strategic importance of space. Last year, I stressed the increased levels of threats in the space domain and the need [for] a change of paradigm when it comes to space, security and defence.

So, you heard me say already say what I am going to say. That space has become a key strategic domain. It is affecting not only all aspects of our life, but it is a key resource or a key battlefield for security and defence. That the geopolitical competition in which are, which we see on Earth is now increasingly projected up in space, and that we need to prepare for an increasingly – still more - competitive and contested space environment.

I do not want to use the word “battlefield” but, yes, space will become a kind of battlefield: at least, a place where competition and confrontation will take place.

There are many figures that show the growing importance of the space sector. 

Last year, governments around the world allocated around $100 billion to space. Well, we can compare that to the support that we have been providing to Ukraine during the war. 

The European Union has provided €50 billion on support to Ukraine. So, the investment, the governmental expenditure is $100 billion – twice our support to Ukraine during a one-year war. 

This is a 9% increase [in investment in space] compared to the previous year. 

What is particularly relevant is that the increase of the expenditure in the defence area is much bigger.  Specifically in the defence area, it is 16% [in 2022] - almost [doubling], with a new record of almost $50 billion of investment. 

Obviously, this strategic dimension of space has become much more evident after 24 February [2022]. We are more or less one month from the [anniversary of the] starting of the war.    

This war was a wake-up call. It was a wake-up call for all of us: not just for Ukraine, not just for the Europeans, [but also] for the international community and international security - and specifically in terms of space. 

So, when it comes to the threats that we face and the urgency of a common European action, we have to look at concretely how space assets and services are crucial for policy makers, as well as military actors. 

[Did] you know that there are about 5,500 satellites in orbit today? 10% of them - a little bit less than 10% - 500 [450] are owned and [or] operated by the world’s military. 10%, or almost, of all the satellites belong to the military. 

But many others are dual-use: they are being used both by civilian and military users, and they provide critical information to support our security and defence.

We have seen – I have seen – how these space services are essential for understanding these fast-changing crises and how the conflict on the ground develops.

For instance, satellite imagery and communications have proved to be game changers for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and for the entire population. 

They have been providing critical information and situational awareness to help resist the attack. 

They have kept Ukrainians connected to their country and the outside world. 

We have seen how the ability to deny the use of space to the adversary is part of warfare. 

Remember that the night before the invasion – the [night of] 23 [to] 24 February, just 24 hours before the invasion started - the telecommunication network VIASAT was targeted by a cyber-attack. A simple, unsophisticated malicious code – not hundreds of guns, just a code – managed to bring down entire parts of a big space communications network used by the Ukrainian military. This was the first signal that the war was going to start.

The war has also revealed our own vulnerabilities linked to space and to the use of space.

The same cyber-attack against VIASAT on the eve of the war had spillover effects also in Europe: wind turbines in one of our Member States went down [at] the same moment. And it took time to understand the link between the energy infrastructure and the satellite network which is commanding it. 

This raises a certain number of critical questions, of strategic questions.

How many of our critical infrastructures in the European Union depend on space services? Yes, we know that our phones depend on the space services, but how many of our critical infrastructures? Things that we need and if they fail, our entire life, the entire system of our economies and societies will be affected. 

And how [are] these services being protected? The other day, the European Commission and NATO were together in order to try to protect our critical infrastructures. How many of these critical infrastructures are in space? Well, this is something that we still do not know exactly. Like in other sectors, we are becoming much more aware of the dependencies, for example, on foreign suppliers. 

For example, when the Russian Soyuz teams suddenly left the space port of Kourou, they put in danger our launch capabilities. I am sure Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton will say more about it.

Before the invasion, in November 2021, Russia tested a kinetic anti-satellite weapon. This was an irresponsible act that not only generated dangerous debris in the space, it [also] signaled to everyone that Russia is prepared to put everyone’s satellites at risk. If they could do that with one satellite, they could do it with our satellites. 

All these events highlighted the range of counter-space capabilities that our competitors are developing, and they are increasingly testing to deploy: from anti-satellite weapons to spoofing and jamming satellite signals or cyber-attacks. 

So, I ask you: what if the next hostile act in space targets a European Union satellite? This may happen. The possibility exists. Will we wait to be surprised? Or should we be preparing to protect our infrastructures?

These are the questions that we [ask] ourselves at the European Commission and at the [European] External Action Service (EEAS). The answer is that we have to do it at the European Union level. It is the typical policy that has no borders. So, it is useless to try to do that at the level of each and [every] one of our Member States. The best thing to do is to do it at the European Union level. 

Which are the implications, then, for our European Union policy response? 

Yes, the Russian invasion [of Ukraine] has compounded the threats that we see in space. And yes, it exposed the vulnerability our [space] systems [to] disruption. 

But it also boosted our resolve to address security and defence more urgently and jointly in the European Union, including in space. 

When we approved the Strategic Compass, when the Member States approved it in March last year, just after [the start of] the war, it sent a clear message, a clear sense of direction. It recognises space as a strategic domain and calls for a dedicated [Space] Strategy [for] Security and Defence. 

We have been working during the last 10 months very closely with Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton and with Member States on the preparation of this strategy that will be presented in March. Sorry, I cannot present it today, but it will be another occasion for a big event for the satellite family.

This Strategy is expected to address many of the questions I put on the table today. Which are these questions?

First, how to improve our common understanding of the space threats?  We need to reinforce our capacity to analyse space-based risks, threats and vulnerabilities, and get a better insight on counter-space capabilities and intentions of our competitors. 

Second, how to better protect our space infrastructure and make it more resilient? Yes, we have to strengthen our infrastructure by reducing strategic dependencies, protecting supply chains and developing critical space technologies. 

Third, how to respond to threats in the space domain? We have to start doing regular exercises and explore options for solidarity and mutual assistance among us.

Fourth, how to strengthen our space capabilities in support of our security and defence? We have to make better use of the benefits of space-based assets for security and defence, to strengthen dual-use innovation and invest more in capability development. 

Allow me to put the example of the European Union Satellite Centre in Torrejón (Spain), an example of a critical European capability. 

This Centre, years after its creation, it remains a key geospatial intelligence provider. And I can tell you, during this war we benefited a lot from the information provided by this Satellite Centre. It has been our common eyes from the space to see what is happening on the ground. 

The demand for the Satellite Centre of Torrejón has been growing.

Last year, it provided us with over 4,500 geospatial intelligence products, which means 10 times more compared to 12 years ago. To increase the output by 10 [times] is quite a success. Well, we would be very happy if we would have not needed it. It would be much better not to have a war, but having a war, the Centre has been able to increase [by] 10 times its output in order to provide more information.

This success has to be capitalised [on]. And we have to see how to use this to better support our decision-making in the area of security.    

And finally, another important question is how do we cooperate better with our partners?

We must continue promoting reliable behaviour, responsible behaviour in space, and we have to look for a growing community of like-minded allies and partners that we need to work more closely with. 

The first example is NATO. In the Joint Declaration between the European Union and NATO, which was signed earlier this month, we identified space as one of the new areas of cooperation. 

Let’s build [on that] in concrete terms. Let's go from the general statements of goodwill and wishes to concrete deliverables.

Dear colleagues and friends, 

To answer all these questions and to translate them into policy choices and concrete actions, we will have to work – all of us – together.

This means that everyone being represented here – Member States, the [European] Commission and key stakeholders of the space sector – a lot will depend on us, a lot will depend on you in order to become more security aware, more active in information sharing and more collaborative.

We have a certain tendency of working in silos, everyone in their corner. This is no longer affordable.

We need the community of people working on space issues and facing space threats to be more cooperative, to work better together in order to face the threats and ensure security both in space and from space. 

That is why the theme of this year’s Conference - “Security of the future in Europe in Space” - is a common objective because it will not be security if we cannot control what is happening in Space.

And without security in space, there will not be security on Earth. We will not be secure if we do not control what is happening in outer space. 

So, I am very happy to encourage you to go in this direction. I hope you will have good discussions over the next two days. We will benefit a lot from it. 

And I invite you, Joëlle [Vanderauwera], when this Space Strategy for Security and Defence will be approved in a couple of months, maybe it will be another occasion to organise a specific encounter, a specific meeting for everybody to be aware of what we propose – because one thing is to propose, and another thing is to implement. And, certainly, without you, this Strategy will become another paper to keep carefully on a shelf – I hope not. 

Thank you very much for the floor


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