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Satellite navigation: Galileo

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Satellite navigation: Galileo

GALILEO is the European satellite radio navigation and positioning programme. Launched by the European Commission and developed jointly with the European Space Agency, it gives the European Union (EU) an independent technology to compete with the American GPS and Russian GLONASS systems. This communication marks the beginnings of Galileo and defines the issues at stake and the objectives of the programme.


Communication from the Commission of 10 February 1999 - "Galileo - Involving Europe in a new generation of satellite navigation services" [COM(1999) 54 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


The issues at stake

In the field of satellite navigation, there are considerable and numerous issues at stake. There are currently two competing systems: the American GPS, which dominates the marketplace, and the Russian GLONASS.

The current dependence, especially on GPS, raises questions of a strategic nature, since the systems utilised are not under European control. The challenge is to safeguard European strategic needs, for example in the field of the common foreign and security policy, without risk or excessive cost.

Satellite navigation offers obvious advantages for managing transport. It allows for greater safety, better traffic flow, reduced congestion and environmental damage, and the support of multi-modal development. The current GPS and GLONASS systems do not seem to guarantee the reliability and availability necessary for passenger transport. The implementation of the European Galileo system will remedy these shortcomings.

The stakes are both economic and industrial. In particular, with a potential global market valued at EUR 40 thousand million between now and 2005, the challenge is to capture a fair share of the satellite navigation market as well as the jobs which flow on from it. The current estimates are as follows: the development of the Galileo infrastructure would generate 20 000 jobs, while its operation would create 2 000 permanent jobs, not including opportunities in the field of applications.

Finally, the regulatory aspects are also considerable. In practice, use of information systems based on positioning and timing signals could make it possible to monitor compliance with certain Community regulations in the area of fishing, for example, or environmental protection.

Even though the United States already has a head start, considering the stakes it is essential for Europe to make a decision quickly on its participation in the next generation of positioning, navigation and timing systems.

Strategic choices

The development of a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) must be a concerted effort. In March 1998 the Council called on the Commission to explore the possibility of developing a common system with the United States. Discussions were held to clarify possible options. As the Americans were not prepared, for military reasons, to envisage joint ownership or an effective role for Europe in controlling the GPS system, cooperation would be possible:

  • either in the existing GPS system controlled by the United States;
  • or in the development of a GNSS based on two navigation systems using complementary interoperable satellites: GPS and Galileo.

The latter option was selected by the Commission, after rejecting the zero option consisting of consciously giving up all European participation in the core space segment of the future GNSS.

The Commission considers it equally desirable for Galileo to be opened to other partners, with whom contact has already been made, such as:

  • the Russian Federation: the GLONASS system could be progressively integrated with Galileo;
  • Japan, which could contribute, particularly financially, to the development of Galileo;
  • other countries or regions (CEEC, EFTA, Turkey, etc.) to which Europe will have to promote its approach favouring GNSS.

In short, Galileo would have to harness the potential for application of a satellite navigation system to civilian uses by striving to fill the gaps in the GPS and reinforcing the reliability of GNSS. It would have to provide global coverage immediately.

Requirements and technical characteristics

The system must be designed to assure global coverage and to allow mass-market public application, with a good level of safety for European transport and minimum space infrastructure. On the other hand, Galileo must provide at least horizontal accuracy of less than 10 metres.

In terms of security, the system will have to guarantee the physical protection of vital infrastructure and provide accurate signals in times of crisis or war. Care must be taken to make any signal rerouting or access to the system by the enemy in times of war completely impossible. To meet these security requirements, experts advocate the installation of controlled access.

Financial aspects

The total cost of Galileo for the period 1999-2008 is estimated at between EUR 2.2 thousand million and 2.95 thousand million, depending on the extent of cooperation with the United States and the use of terrestrial systems.

Current American policy is to provide the GPS base signal free of charge. This type of approach to Galileo would require heavy public financing, as the private sector alone cannot bear this kind of cost with a view to providing a free service for users.

As Galileo is considered a key element in the trans-European network and common transport policy, European financing is justified. This will be possible from the European Union budget, in particular the TEN budget, that of the European Space Agency and the fifth R&D Framework Programme. In addition, specific revenue streams could be established by means of regulatory arrangements such as installing certain controlled-access subscriber-only services, or taxing signal receivers. In short, the development of a public-private partnership should be encouraged.

Organisational framework

In order to design, build and operate Galileo, the Commission proposes an organisational structure bringing in, amongst others, the GNSS high-level group, the Commission, the European Space Agency and all investors. A small special management board could be set up.

Nevertheless, above all, a political commitment is indispensable in order to provide the necessary impetus for investment by industry, for negotiating the features of the system with international partners and for reinforcing European influence in this strategic domain. The European Council could lead the way in this respect.


Following an initial communication in January 1998, in March 1998 the Council called on the Commission to present recommendations on the European approach to global satellite navigation. This communication is the response to the Council's request. It was followed in 2002 by the creation of the Galileo joint undertaking and then the regulation on the deployment and commercial operating phases of the programme.


Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council of 14 July 2004 on the implementation of the deployment and commercial operating phases of the European programme of satellite radionavigation [COM(2004) 477 final - Not published in the Official Journal]. The Galileo programme has now reached an advanced stage of maturity and goes well beyond the framework of a simple research project. This regulation aims to base the programme on a specific legal instrument, which is more appropriate for meeting its industrial and commercial needs and best meets the requirements of sound financial management.

Council Regulation (EC) No 876/2002 of 21 May 2002 setting up the Galileo Joint Undertaking. This Regulation sets up the joint undertaking to manage the development phase (2002-2005) of the GALILEO programme. Besides managing the development phase until 2005, this joint undertaking must also prepare the implementation of the later phases of the programme (deployment and commercial operation).

Council resolution of 3 August 1999 [Official Journal C 221 of 3 August 1999]. On 19 July 1999 the Council adopted a resolution on "Involving Europe in a new generation of satellite navigation services - Galileo - Definition phase", in which it called on the Commission to submit draft mandates to the Council for negotiations in order to explore fully possibilities for cooperation with the United States of America and the Russian Federation. It also called on the Commission to present a thorough cost-benefit analysis examining, in particular, options for revenue sources, the proposed public-private partnership and the possibilities for securing finance from the private sector.

Last updated: 13.01.2006