Space exploration has outreach potential, outreach to European citizens, i.e. voters. Space exploration could reflect the creative dynamism of the European integration process. It has proven its potential to bringing European states closer together – the establishment of the European Space Agency being the best example – even if space exploration is difficult and extortionately expensive. But the cost-benefit analysis must be done in a long-term perspective.
Jean Monnet’s argument still stands that the supranational model of governance is best applied in areas in which technological breakthrough opens up new fields of activity, provided that it does not touch on national sensitivities as for example in the fields of nuclear research or military security. A space programme at the cutting edge of technological development manifestly fits the description.
In the past, a European space policy has never featured very high either on the agenda of any individual European Member State or, indeed, on the agenda of ‘Europe’ itself, which takes out the one caveat of ‘national sensitivities’. Nonetheless, the European Space Agency is still confined to the periphery of the European set-up, in institutional terms, being firmly situated outside of the EU institutional structures. As such, the ESA remains an intergovernmental institution, which means that often the lowest common denominator acceptable to all countries is the most that can be achieved. In addition, geographically, the ESA headquarters is located in Paris, somewhat remote from the main European decision-making centre in Brussels. Arguably, the ESA has never been at the core of the European integration process.
This may change in the future. The combination of ‘low politics’ and ‘novelty’ suggests that a European space policy is ideally poised to become an important element in a future external policy objective of the EU, i.e. outreach as outlined in the introduction in the concrete form of exploration.