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EC auditors criticise Galileo overruns

The project to develop a European civilian rival to the US's military GPS system was hampered by poor management, the European Court of Auditors has found
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Europe's GPS project has been severely criticised by European Commission auditors for running over budget and deadline.

The Galileo satellite-network project, which aims to provide a European civilian rival to the US's military GPS system, was launched in the mid 1990s, and due to be completed by 2013. The European Court of Auditors said in a special report on Monday that the project had seen "substantial delays and cost overruns".

The auditors' report covered the period from 2003 to 2006, when the project was managed by the Galileo Joint Undertaking (GUJ), a body set up by the European Commission and the European Space Agency.

The court concluded that management by the GUJ during this time period was inadequate. According to the auditors, the Galileo programme experienced problems at different levels, including a failure to adequately negotiate and carry through a public-private partnership (PPP).

"The GJU's most important task was to negotiate a public-private partnership under which the private sector would invest, in partnership with the European Commission, in the creation and use of the Galileo infrastructure," said the report. "Negotiations with the private sector on a concession agreement stalled in early 2007."

The audit found that the partnership plan was inadequately prepared and conceived. As a result, the GJU was required to negotiate a PPP which the auditors described as unrealistic. The court said that the GJU's task of supervising technological development was seriously constrained by governance issues and an incomplete budget.

The Galileo project was initially budgeted at 3bn euros, but a UK Transport Subcommittee estimated in 2007 that this could rise to €14.2bn.

Also in their report, the auditors pointed out that the integration of European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (Egnos) into Galileo was only partially successful. Egnos is a joint venture with the US and Japan to use ground infrastructure to track satellites.

The auditors also found that the Commission did not provide adequate leadership in developing and managing Galileo.

A Commission spokesperson was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

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