Slovenia becomes associated state of European Space Agency
The minister said the agreement gave Slovenian companies new opportunities and access to ESA programmes. Signing the association agreement will give Slovenia the status of an associated member of the ESA, an important step before gaining full-fledged membership, Počivalšek said.
The move comes six years after Slovenia signed the Plan For European Cooperating State (PECS) Charter, making it a cooperating member and involving it in a five-year programme of basic research and development activities aimed at improving the country's space industry.
At the end of the five-year period, countries that sign the charter can either begin negotiations to become a full member state, an associated member or sign a new PECS Charter. Počivalšek said that signing the association agreement encourages companies from the space industry around the world to connect and cooperate. Slovenia's new status will offer it more opportunities to cooperate in one of the five ESA programmes.
Slovenian companies will at first choose between two or three of these, he said. The minister added that Slovenia had about 40 companies in the area of high technology and several institutions that are very interested in Slovenia's ESA membership. Slovenia's newly acquired status also lowers its membership fee from EUR 1.3 million to EUR 400,000 a year, the minister said.
Though the country will have to use its own financial resources to join the ongoing ESA programmes, a large share of these payments will be reimbursed. Slovenia will also have the right to elect its own representatives at the working bodies of the ESA, he said. "We also discussed sending two or three young Slovenian representatives to the ESA next year who would help strengthen communication between Slovenia and the agency," said Počivalšek.
ESA director Johann Dietrich Wörner, who signed the agreement on behalf of the agency, confirmed that Slovenia gained a special status with its new rank at the ESA. He hoped that Slovenia would use the opportunities this status offers and that it would soon become a member state of the ESA.
Currently, the ESA has 22 members, 20 of which are EU member states along with Norway and Switzerland. The agency works closely with the EU in the European Strategy for Space. Together they framed the European space policy, the Galileo global navigation satellite system and the Copernicus Earth observatory programme.