EUROPE AGREED yesterday to fund a satellite navigation system that will rival America's mighty Global Positioning System (GPS), which is widely used by every self-respecting traveller from the weekend yachtsman to fighting soldiers.
The European Union's transport ministers have signed off the first EUR450m (pounds 280m) which, along with the EUR100m already authorised and the EUR550m promised by the European Space Agency, will pay for the four-year development of the Galileo system.
Loyola de Palacio, the EU's transport commissioner, said that Galileo would be compatible with the American GPS, although it will be seen as a competitor in the satellite navigation market.
"We now have a `yes' for Galileo, which signifies Europe's wish to be present in the international scene in the areas of research, technology and industrial development," Ms de Palacio said.
Galileo - a network of satellites positioned in a stable, geostationary orbit around Earth - is scheduled to be launched over a two-year period beginning in 2006. It is expected to be operational from 2008 onwards.
The system will be civilian controlled, unlike the military- operated GPS, and it will provide some 100,000 new jobs for European companies, such as Airbus, Thales and Eutelsat.
John Spellar, Britain's Transport minister, welcomed the decision to go ahead with Galileo, despite the fact that the UK, along with Germany and the Netherlands, had voiced doubts over the financial viability of the plan at the end of last year.
"Because of the importance of Galileo to Europe, we and other member states such as Germany and the Netherlands have been keen to ensure the viability of the project," Mr Spellar said.
"Our concerns have focussed on the management of the project, funding, costs and the benefits to …