Estonia on the Way to Full Membership of the European Space Agency
2014 was the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the European Space Agency (ESA). In 2014, the accession negotiations of Estonia with the ESA will be concluded, and in 2015 Estonia may become a full-fledged member of the ESA.
The article gives a brief overview of the ESA, an intergovernmental organisation that today has 20 member states. The ESA functions on the basis of the ESA Convention of 1975, where the rights and obligations of its members are outlined. The ESA Convention has turned out to be such a good document that after its founding, practically no changes have been made to it. New member states join the Convention. In many issues the ESA member states have equal right to vote, regardless of their contribution to the ESA budget. Important decisions are adopted on the basis of consensus. Another special feature of the ESA is its industrial policy, according to which orders are placed to the enterprises of member states proportionally to the participation of that country to the ESA budget. At the same time the contracts in ESA procurements are awarded on the basis of open invitations to tender, in order to ascertain the best offer. The ESA has managed to implement these two seemingly contradicting principles successfully, guaranteeing in this way the development of high technology economy and space industry in Europe. The ESA with its 2000 employees is a good example of how European countries can cooperate in such a demanding sphere as space and its applications.
Estonia has been developing relations with the ESA since 2006. Why should Estonia join the ESA and what will it give us?
Joining the ESA has both direct and indirect impact on Estonia. The direct impact is first of all high technology orders to Estonian companies and the agencies of the Estonian Academy of Sciences. This could also be called institutional export. A precondition for institutional export is that Estonia as a country is a member of the relevant institution.
The space industry does not exist on its own but generates as its indirect impact the so-called supplementary revenue: orders to subcontractors, technology transfer to land-based economy, etc. The analyses conducted in several countries show that the turnover multiplicator ranges between 2 (Portugal) and 6 (Norway).
Cooperation with the ESA is not an aim in itself, but should be seen as a preparatory stage for the cooperation of Estonian entrepreneurs with the space industry companies of Europe (and the world). In cooperation with a large institution it is possible to develop the necessary competencies and capabilities, and to establish contacts with companies.
Membership status in the European Space Agency is an acknowledgement to the capability and ambitions of a country in space research, and would be a sign of belonging to the sharpest top of European research and development work.
Estonia has reached the final stage of becoming a member state of the ESA. Our cooperation, which has lasted eight years already, has shown that we have something to give to the ESA and we can get something from the ESA. It would be sensible for Estonia as a small country to realise its space ambitions in cooperation with the ESA, by developing both essential and administrative capacity. If the result of that is high-paying jobs, new ambitious companies, increasing high technology export, then the expenses are justified. Space has always been an inspiration for the young people of Estonia, already since the sixties of the last century. Being a member of the ESA will certainly help to accomplish some of these dreams.