Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pigs Might Fly...

Galileo...but hopefully this white elephant won't. It's certainly looking as if it's going to need a huge booster rocket of tax payer's money to get it into orbit according to EU Observer.

According to the EU commission the only place the Galileo project is heading is rapidly up shit-creek rather than skywards. From EU Observer, the commission is:

'asking for full public coverage of the expenses after the chosen private investors failed to agree on financing the €4 billion, hugely-delayed project.'

The same old pattern repeats itself once more. A project where just a little public pump priming was meant to be required looks set to become the taxpayer's burden. The explanation offered by Jacques Barrot, the ethically-challenged transport commissioner, said private investors are:
"afraid to take risk at this early stage", but
'"impatient" to be able to use its services once it starts running.'

Of course they are. They know how these major Pan-European projects go by now. Hang around long enough and the state will stump up and save your R&D budget.

The delightful M Barrot points out:
"It's €400 million per year which equals about 400km of motorway."
"Or could we just give up Galileo?"

The correct answers of course are 'motorway please' and 'yes', but unfortunately, as the article points out, the two points from M Barrot are (1) an option not being offered and (2) a purely rhetorical question.
M Barrot offers his own 'right' answer:
"Our industry must be at the front of this technological revolution and therefore we must ensure there are no further delays."
"We're determined to assume the full responsibility for this major project."

Though of course we already know his definition of 'full responsibility' is somewhat different from that used by the general population.

Jaques BarrotThe motorway comparison is especially apt, considering one of the few ways that have been suggested of promoting it's use over the already widely available and increasingly cheap Navstar-GPS alternative is as the basis of a EU-wide road charging scheme. That's right, your taxpayer's money is used to pay for a system to make it possible to tax you in new ways, whilst simultaneously tracking you even more closely than cattle are already.

Some of the other justifications are more suspect, such it's ability to work indoors 'to help navigate within buildings', and there's silence on the potential military uses, especially by China and India.

Launched at the same time as Navstar-GPS it may have stood a chance. Now the existing system has an enormous benefit of incumbency, with a vast installed base of receivers and economies of scale that result, that can only be overcome now by methods that would violate the spirit of free trade. Whether it's by subsidising the whole project or legislatively punishing the competitor the taxpayer-consumer loses hands down.
"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door"

said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not if the mousetrap costs three times as much as the old one and only catches five percent more mice. Actually I'll take that back slightly. There will still be a small queue of people on the doorstep with taxpayer's cash in their hands.

The really tragedy are that there are many, many areas where there is truly innovative blue-sky thinking going on in Europe. The UK alone is still only beaten into second place, in terms of published scientific research, by the US. The problem is that they are smaller and less headline-grabbing than the ones governments tend to buy into, especially the EU with its penchant resurrecting the old Soviet idea of grand scale 'Hero' projects.

And joined-up government? Has anyone calculated the carbon dioxide impact of the thirty-plus Soyuz rockets needed to get this white elephant off the ground?

I've never understood the sobriquet Jacques 'Wheel' Barrot, before. I assumed it was something to do with spinning, but now I guess it's just that the 'reinventing the...' was dropped to make it more snappy.

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