Channelling our skills is no bad thing

One interesting feature of the remodelled Conservative Party is how Europe — the issue that has hopelessly divided the Tories for decades — has been almost entirely absent from the new leadership’s public agenda.

This is no doubt a canny political move by Cameron and company, because they know that our relationship with the rest of the EU has the power to send many among their membership into a state of uncontrollable fury.

Both Labour and the smouldering remains of what used to be the Liberal Democrat leadership face the same problem — politically, Europe is a deeply divisive issue for the people of the UK.

But while the politicians prefer to skirt around the question in favour of a quiet life, the engineering and technology community is quietly getting on with the job of pan-European co-operation. Take Galileo, Europe’s fledgling satellite navigation network. You would imagine that the fact that the first element of this giant project, the GioveA satellite, was built by a Surrey based space technology specialist would be a source of considerable national pride.

In some quarters, certainly. But others found it impossible to resist the temptation to use the launch of GioveA as springboard for further attacks on the entire Galileo venture. In the minds of some, the very fact that it is a European project makes Galileo ‘a bad thing’ almost by definition — guilty until proven innocent. It has been labelled a white elephant even before, literally, getting off the ground (‘the Common Agricultural Policy in space’ is one of the memorable descriptions).

The few weeks since GioveA’s launch have also produced further sinister mutterings about the EU’s ‘Big Brother’ ambitions, and suggestions that participating in the Galileo initiative, rather than sticking with the US GPS system, is a sign of gross disloyalty to our trans-Atlantic allies.

You can take your pick from any of the above and make up your own mind.

Meanwhile, Surrey Satellite Technology, the company behind GioveA, is a fantastic example of a firm that has grown from a university spin-out into an international success story, doing business with China, America and, of course, Europe.

Surrey Satellite is part of a formidable UK space technology community, encompassing the Astrium satellite division of EADS in Stevenage and the research labs of some of our leading universities.

If projects such as Galileo can help sustain and nurture our technical excellence in these areas, that makes it, to this magazine’s mind, ‘a good thing’ almost by definition — innocent until proven guilty.

Whatever the politicians say or don’t say on the subject, the very best of our engineering and technology base is doing business in Europe — and doing it well.

Andrew Lee, editor