Eurocrisis raakt R&D
High unemployment, low tax revenues, expensive loans onfinancial markets – the economic situation in Spain leaves littleroom for generous spending these days. For this reason, Spain isnegotiating with the European Space Agency (ESA) over its mandatorycontributions to the ESA budget suggesting that the agency shouldtake out cheaper loans that will be repaid by Spain later on.
To respond to the debt crisis, European governments have threeoptions: raising taxes, cutting on expenditures or refinancing olddebt by taking out new loans. With a budget deficit of 11,2 % ofGDP in 2009, Spain is urged to implement all three measures. In2009, Spanish contributions to the ESA funds accumulated to € 180million and with interest premiums on Spanish treasury soaringSpain faces the problem of financing its commitments with theESA
Given this situation, the Spanish government suggested that theESA should borrow the required funds itself at its cheaper rates onthe market relieving pressure from the Spanish budget. Whether thisoption is a viable solution to the issue remains questionable sinceit represents a shift of risk from the Spanish government to theESA. Other highly indebted countries such as Italy, Portugal,Greece and Ireland (all members of ESA) could start asking for asimilar favor increasing the ESA debt burden significantly.
A vulnerable cooperation
What does that mean for the work of the ESA itself? While itremains unclear whether the ESA will actually agree on such a dealwith Spain, it shows how vulnerable ambitious internationalcooperation is when it comes down to “who pays for what”. Thecurrent European debt crisis questions many prestigious targets theESA set out for the coming years such as setting up a Europeanmission to the moon or developing a spaceship for transportation ofcargo and astronauts into space.
These projects are considered crucial for Europe to catch upwith other nations such as the USA, Russia and China in modernspace technology. The future will show to what extent the ESA willbe able to continue these ambitious targets given the currenteconomic stress of its members.