Poland will join the European Space Agency as its 20th member in fall 2012, before the Ministerial Council meeting. This is a huge success for the industry, business and scientific groups, which for years have lobbied for full membership in the Agency.
Poland has a long tradition in contacts with the European Space Agency (ESA). For the last five years cooperation was realized under the PECS programme, which could be considered as an “introduction” to the full membership in ESA. This PECS programme is scheduled to finish at the end of this year.
In late November 2011 the negotiations between Poland and ESA were initiated. The technical part of negotiations ended successfully in first quarter of 2012 and the terms were found to be satisfactory to Poland. Next, the decision was up to the Polish government, which was delaying the decision for some time. The Ministry of Finance (MF) was against joining ESA this year, as they considered membership in the Agency as a too big expenditure in the current economic situation.
As an answer to the MF veto, several lobbying groups from scientific, industry and NGOs have been working very hard in the recent weeks using various methods of communication, including social media, TV, radio and newspapers. Also, a dedicated website www.polskawesa.pl was launched, collecting signatures supporting ESA membership for Poland. This website also explained the possible outcome of joining or delaying Poland’s accession. Quickly, the campaign reached the mainstream media and had a further influence on the government.
Finally, on the meeting on the 12th of June government decided to accept the negotiation results and join the Agency. On that day, the best possible outcome has been chosen, i.e. to join ESA in 2012, before the ESA Ministerial Council. The first confirmation came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski, who told the news one day before the official announcement using his Twitter account. On the 13th of June, an official document was sent to ESA with confirmation of the accession agreement.
Some details related to the Polish accession to ESA are not known yet. However, it is known that the Polish contribution to ESA should be approximately 30 million EUR per annum. The membership in ESA should pave the way to recover a significant part of almost 500 million EUR, which Poland will spend between 2014 and 2020 on European Union space programmes, mainly Galileo and GMES. Without ESA, Polish companies and institutions would recover no more than 5% of these funds, with little benefits to the country.
It is important to note here that there was no organized opposition to the Polish membership in ESA, apart from the Ministry of Finance. Various independent groups and individuals, even those who have never heard of ESA, were supporting this idea. Since the beginning, the membership in the Agency was presented mainly as a chance to the industry, which would create new jobs and give measurable benefits to the society. In addition, some political, scientific, educational and regional (for the Central Europe) benefits were presented, supporting the concept of membership to ESA. All these factors suggest that currently there is a strong public support to the space sector in Poland, which is a good prognosis for first years in ESA.