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U.S.-EU Summit: County Clare June 25-26, 2004

U.S., EU to Sign Landmark GPS-Galileo Agreement

Pact assures compatibility, interoperability of global positioning systems

By Christine Johnson
Washington File Staff Writer

The United States and the European Union (EU) have completed negotiations on an agreement to harmonize their respective satellite navigation systems: the existing U.S. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system and the planned European Galileo system.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed June 26 by Secretary of State Colin Powell and EU Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio during the U.S.-EU summit in County Clare, Ireland.

John Sammis, minister counselor at the U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels, Belgium, called the pact a "landmark agreement" that will ensure a balanced and mutually beneficial relationship between the two systems.

"It paves the way for the establishment of interoperable civil services, and the commitment to pursue a common civil signal to the benefit of users and developers of satellite navigation equipment worldwide," he said, adding that the agreement also "addresses our mutual concerns related to the protection of allied and U.S. national security capabilities."

Sammis spoke with reporters in Brussels June 23 during a joint press conference with de Palacio and Heinz Hilbrecht of the European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport. He said the United States is very pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, describing the agreement as "proof of the continuing strength and depth" of the transatlantic relationship.

De Palacio said the agreement meets "the overall objectives that we had set for ourselves in terms of compatibility, interoperability between Galileo and GPS." She also noted that four technical annexes will be appended to the agreement covering national security, interference, synchronization and methodology.

As a result of achieving harmonization, de Palacio said, the signals emitted by the two systems' open services "are going to become the de-facto world standard in civilian satellite radio navigation" and will permit users to use either system -- or both at the same time -- with a single receiver.

Hilbrecht pointed out that users will have access to a network of more than 50 satellites, which he said will provide greater precision than either system alone could provide.

For example, if one system breaks down or is shut down for security reasons, the other would still be operational. "The user would not even realize that the other one would have been cut off. I think this is very important from a security point of view," he said.

Hilbrecht also noted that the agreement establishes four working groups to further address radio frequency compatibility, trade issues, technological developments and future designs, and security issues.

Another important point, according to Sammis, de Palacio and Hilbrecht, is that the agreement assures compatibility of the future M (military) code of the U.S. system with the closed PRS (Public Regulated Service) code that is reserved for the European public sector.

"There will be no problem in terms of overlap of frequencies, which seemed to be a problem at the start," de Palacio said. "But that has been resolved because of new improvements to the system, in particular the Galileo system."

The impact of the M code on the quality of the Galileo signals had been a major concern of the EU.

Finally, according to Hilbrecht, negotiators were able to reach general agreement on the issue of "non-discrimination," which he said means open markets for both sides.

Sammis concluded that the new agreement "seals a partnership" between the United States and the EU, and he predicted that it will prove its worth in the coming decades.