The Galileo satellite project is the EU’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS). It was developed to rival to the United States Global Position System (GPS) and it is intended to provides accurate positioning and timing information. It has had a problematic history with a number of delays and has managed to go significantly over budget. However, when it eventually does reach its Final Operating Capability in 2020, it will be one of the most important pieces of strategic information-sharing in the world.
The UK has always been a vital partner for the continent in matters of security. The British Prime Minister Theresa May, has recognised the importance of the defence relationship between the EU and the UK and with the exception of a small stumble at the start, has consistently advocated for continued close relations on defence after the UK leaves the EU.
When it comes to the Galileo project, however, it is the EU that is making the mistake of playing politics with something vital to European defence and security. The EU has decided that because the UK is leaving the EU, it cannot be trusted with the sensitive information that the satellites will produce. As a result the EU have told the UK that neither the British Government, nor British companies will have access to the project after Brexit. Such a move has the potential to jeopardise the close relationship between Britain and the Continent.
Even ardent remainers in the British cabinet are turning against the bloc with this damaging decision. Chancellor Philip Hammond, himself a backer of the EU has now told his cabinet colleagues that if the EU goes ahead with plans to block British companies from taking part in sensitive parts of Galileo, the UK would retaliate. Whitehall is already looking at ways to prevent the transfer of technology and expertise from the UK to the EU.
This is a very drastic course of action as the strategic relationships between many of the EU countries and the UK have become increasingly interconnected over time. Britain and France for example, have one of the closest strategic alliances in Europe.The UK has strengthened ties with France on combat aircraft and missile systems that not only aligns both countries capabilities but also brings down the cost of procurement. This should not, and is unlikely to change in the future. Both countries have expressed their continued commitment to each other. Therefore such a suggestion by Brussels that the UK cannot be trusted with sensitive information, undermines even their own member states.
The EU cannot also deny the important contribution the UK has made to the project thus far. Since 2003 the UK has contributed approximately 1.4bn euros (£1.2bn) to Galileo and has carried out about 15 percent of the work on it. UK-based companies have developed some of the most secure elements of the system, including the codes that protect the tracking signal. To deny continued access is completely impractical.
The EU’s argument is that the UK will no longer be a member of the bloc and so should therefore be denied access to the project that it has widely contributed to. But they undermine even their own point here, as they have already entered into conversations with Norway and the US about access to the project. The desire for shared information with the US is an intelligent one, as the GPS in the US is far superior to the Galileo and may improve some of its data. But what this shows more than anything else is that the EU is being motivated by spite to the UK rather than anything else, they are ignoring the practical benefits the UK brings to the union, simply because of Brexit.
The EU needs to be more rational with this project and stop being motivated by spite. It will cost time and money to develop and replace UK-based expertise, money the EU does not necessarily have. The UK has stressed its willingness to continue a strategic alliance and the EU needs to remember that the UK is still a strong and capable military power. The EU would be better served by working with the UK rather than against them.