Academic journal article Global Governance

With the Head in the Air and the Feet on the Ground: The EU's Actorness in International Space Governance

Academic journal article Global Governance

With the Head in the Air and the Feet on the Ground: The EU's Actorness in International Space Governance

Article excerpt

Starting with the assumption that the European Union has increasingly tended to present its major space achievements as a substantial contribution to a larger and more ambitious project of construction and legitimization of a political actor (common foreign and security policy/European security and defense policy), this study deals with the EU's international actomess regarding global space governance. Different criteria (authority, autonomy, and coherence) have been selected in order to measure the level of international actomess in a given sector. This original grid of analysis has been systematically tested on the EU in order to conclude if the EU is an actor in the space field or if it is simply present in the field. KEYWORDS: space, actomess, European Union, governance, Galileo, satellite, international relations, European Space Agency.

DEBATES SURROUNDING THE ABILITY OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) TO ACT ON the international stage are not new. Similar to the Maastricht Treaty and the subsequent treaties that created great expectations during the 1990s regarding common foreign and security policy (CFSP), the various developments experienced by the European space sector have aroused many hopes. This is especially the case since the Union has been increasingly tempted to present some of the major space achievements as substantial contributions to a larger and more ambitious project of construction and legitimization as a political actor. (1)

Although space activities stay principally within the realm of member state competence, implemented through the European Space Agency (ESA) or at national level, the EU has not been excluded de facto from those activities. (2) While its involvement in the field is relatively new (the European Commission issued its first communication on space in 1988), the EU now presents itself as "a world-class space leader" and, because of the profound evolutions it has experienced during the past thirty years, states that it is one of the "key actors of the European Space Policy." (3)

Nevertheless, as in the movie industry, it is not because you say that you are an actor that you actually can assert to be one, and the diverse statements of the EU regarding its international actomess cannot be considered as "performative utterances." (4) The very notion of "actor" turns out to be extremely complex and rests on a series of highly interconnected characteristics and criteria that one should first try to delimit before deciding if the EU possesses this quality or not. Moreover, in the particular European space field, this situation is even more complicated by the fact that the current governance architecture rests on a complex triangle composed of ESA, individual states, and the EU.

In this article, I aim to analyze the EU's action in space. As a starting point, I therefore set up a frame of reference based on the literature dealing with international actorness. This frame contains the pertinent criteria that one should demonstrate in order to be considered an international actor. I subsequently applied this frame to the EU's actions in order to check whether the hypothesis of the EU as a genuine international space actor is proven by the facts or whether one should instead talk about some kind of presence in the field.

The Actor in International Relations

The reflection about the EU as an actor in international relations is a recurring theme of the time-honored literature. The first questionings go back to the 1970s and the work of Swedish political scientist Gunnar Sjostedt. (5) He claimed that the European Community (EC) could be considered as a true international actor only if it succeeded in articulating common interests and mobilizing autonomous resources through a system represented on the international level that was able to manage crises and to implement its decisions. (6) At that time, these criteria were not completely fulfilled by the EC, de facto depriving it of the status of international actor. …

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