Divisions are emerging within the EU over the European commission’s decision to exclude the UK from the bloc’s new satellite navigation system, Galileo.
A number of member states are said by sources in Brussels to have become sympathetic to the British cause regarding the handling of the issue by EU officials.
The commission decided last year to exclude Britain and its companies from sensitive future work on the Galileo satellite project without warning, in what EU sources have described as a “peremptory manner”.
Galileo is the £8bn EU rival to the global positioning system (#GPS) developed and controlled by the US. The system, which will have both civil and military uses, was commissioned in 2003 and is due for completion by 2020.
The UK is claiming, according to a leaked government paper tabled this week in the negotiations in Brussels, that blocking British companies from the project will add €1bn (£880m) in costs and threaten security on both sides of the channel. It further claims that stopping British involvement during the transition period is a breach of the joint report agreed in December between the commission and the UK.
The UK is now threatening to demand the return of more than €1bn of its contributions to EU space research unless Brussels backtracks.
“An end to close UK participation will be to the detriment of Europe’s prosperity and security and could result in delays and additional costs to the programme”, the leaked UK technical note says. “Should the UK’s future access be restricted, the UK’s past contribution to the financing of space assets should be discussed.”
The commission’s decision itself is said to be an issue for some member states, but the manner in which the UK has been treated has generally raised eyebrows.
When the UK’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, was said to have sent a letter expressing his concerns over the block on UK firms, he was not given the courtesy of a response. He later received an apology as the letter had been lost by the European commission.