The European Commission’s assessment of the Government’s position on the GALILEO project


On Wednesday 13 June, the European Commission published an assessment  of the Government’s position paper on future UK participation in the EU’s GALILEO satellite navigation project, itself published on 24 May. Participation in Galileo has become a bone of contention in the Brexit negotiations, with the Government very clear that it would like to continue to participate in the project post-Brexit on as close to possible, current terms, at odds with the European Commission’s stance on this issue.[1] Indeed, the UK’s current EU Commissioner, testifying to the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Thursday 14 June, noted that the EU was not deliberately being difficult but that an agreement would need to be found on data, dispute settlement as well as the legal enforcement of any UK participation.[2] 

This briefing paper outlines Open Britain’s top lines and our analysis of the debate, including the details published in today’s assessment by the European Commission.

Separately, Open Britain’s assessment of the Government’s position from 24 May can be found here.


Brief overview of the GALILEO project

The EU’s GALILEO project is a satellite navigation system, providing timing and positioning information. It has 18 satellites in operation and is currently operating in a trial period. It operates three services: an open, public service; a public regulated service, providing encrypted information for Government services, including during times of emergency or crisis; and finally providing data relevant to search and rescue operations.[3]     


What are the main issues?

  • Despite its aim to take the UK out of the European Union, the Government would like to keep the UK in the GALILEO system.
  • Given that data provided by the programme is relevant for security issues, the Government are essentially tying UK participation in GALILEO to all future UK-EU co-operation.[4]
  • In the eventuality that the UK is not allowed to participate in the GALILEO project, the Government are threatening the establishment of a rival satellite system, with estimates suggesting this could cost up to £3.7bn.[5]
  • The European Commission have noted that what the UK Government is the looking to achieve in the negotiations as regards access to the Galileo programme is not on offer for non-EU member states.


Top Lines

  • The GALILEO satellite project is a vital part of pan-European security and data cooperation and leaving it would have serious and damaging consequences.
  • This is yet another area of the negotiations where the Government's red lines are hurting the national interest. Ministers have woken up to the importance of this issue far too late.
  • Linking security co-operation with one particular EU programme flies in the face of previous Government statements that the UK is committed to the security of the European Continent.  
  • With the costs of Brexit increasing by the day, following recent revelations over the costs of new customs operations with the EU post-Brexit, the Government need to come clean about the cost of establishing a rival UK satellite navigation system to rival GALILEO.
  • Nobody voted to make our country less safe and if leaving the EU threatens our security we must have a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.


In Detail

  • The document by the European Commission underlines that any access to EU programmes by the UK in the future UK-EU relationship will be subject to the UK willing to accepting existing EU rules. The Commission has explained that the kind of access which the UK is looking to get on Galileo is not available to non-EU member states and therefore not available to the UK outside of the EU.
  • The Commission’s document underlines that it will not be possible, for the UK, outside of the EU to have the same benefits and rights as an existing member state. This is an important point and one which the Government need to hear loud and clear, having had a negotiating position of “have our cake and eat it” for such a long time.
  • As concerns access for non-EU member states to the Galileo project, the Commission notes that this means: no voting rights and no decisional power; no access to meetings and that there are specific rules on access to security-sensitive information. The Commission also notes that non-EU member state businesses will also be limited to participation by non-EU member states in Galileo-related tenders.
  • As concerns the security-relevant signal provided by the Galileo satellite system, the Commission highlights that this is only open to EU member states and that EU member state essential security interests have to be upheld under all circumstances. The Commission notes that non-EU members can have access to this but this is contingent on non-EU members signing an agreement with the EU on this and all EU member states would need to concur with this. In other words, automatic existing UK participation, which exists today, would be lost.
  • It is clear that what on offer is not good enough as regards UK security and this is due to the Government’s own red lines. Nobody expected the UK to be less secure but this being the case, it is only right that there is a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal, at the end of the process.