Galileo gets funding through to 2005

Galileo, Europe's equivalent of the US global positioning system satellite network, got the go-ahead yesterday after European...

Galileo, Europe's equivalent of the US global positioning system satellite network, got the go-ahead yesterday after European telecommunication ministers agreed to inject €450m (£277m) into the project.

By 2008, the €3.6bn (£2.2bn) project will consist of 30 satellites orbiting the earth, just as the US network of GPS satellites do at present.

The €450m - together with €650m (£399m) already earmarked for the project - will secure funding through to 2005, a spokesman at the Council of Ministers said.

Ministers were divided on how to proceed with the project, which will be the European Union's biggest joint infrastructure project to date.

The UK was the least enthusiastic about the project. However, a UK official said yesterday that his country was satisfied with a compromise that would exclude private companies until after a tendering offer to find a private operator for the system had been put into place. This is expected to happen by the end of next year.

"This ensures the integrity of the tendering process. It avoids a potential problem of conflicts of interest," The official said.

Unlike the US GPS, Galileo will be a purely civilian satellite network, serving transport networks such as airlines and shipping companies, as well as emergency services such as search and rescue teams. Potential private investors in Galileo are likely to include aerospace firms, the spokesman at the council said.

The US has tried to discourage the EU from developing Galileo, arguing that it was unnecessary, and that it might complicate matters in space if the two systems are not compatible.

But Loyola de Palacio, commissioner for transport, said the EU would continue its "best co-operation" with US officials to ensure Galileo and GPS are compatible and complementary.

The recent cooling of relations between the US and the EU has been cited as one reason why the Europeans are now rallying around Galileo. European politicians at a summit of EU heads of state in Barcelona last week warned that Europe risked "vassal" status to US technology in space.

Galileo "permits the EU to shake off dependence" on the US GPS, French transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said after the vote on Tuesday.

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