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India announces participation in Galileo project

India on Saturday formally pledged its participation in the European Union’s Galileo satellite navigation system, held up by both sides as significant agreement aimed at giving a boost to strategic ties between them. India’s expertise in cost-effective space technologies could bring both technical value and price competitiveness to the project, Vajpayee said in an address to the 4th India-EU Business Summit.

A joint statement at the end of the meeting said India had agreed to participate in the Galileo programme “recognising the vital importance of satellite navigation and positioning of our economies. “We expressed our willingness to open negotiations to conclude an agreement between India and the EU to formalise India’s equitable participation in the Galileo programme…” it added.

“We have decided to participate in that project. Details are to be worked out,” Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told reporters at the end of the fourth India-European Union Summit. “We therefore seek to participate, not as a mere customer, but as an equal partner,” Vajpayee said. “I don’t think it is sensible to have one system in the world,” EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten said in response to a question by reporters.

India’s decision to support the EU project comes in the wake of the US war against Iraq in which the GPS was used extensively to bombard that country. The EU has been urging India to join the project, for which China has already committed 300 million euros. Although the initiators and backers of the project stress it is only for civilian use, they do not deny its military application. Apart from the strategic objectives, India sees in the Galileo project, named after the famous Italian physicist and astronomer, an opportunity to showcase its prowess in space technology.

European Commission President Romano Prodi described India-EU collaboration in the Galileo project as a “major political agreement.” Indian officials said New Delhi would soon pick up a 350-million-dollar (300-million-euro) stake in the 3.2 billion euro European satellite project, meant to rival the Global Positioning System run by the US Defence Department.

Galileo, due to be operational by 2008, will feature 30 satellites capable of tracking everything from aircraft to cars. Both India and the EU said the system would be only for civilian use. India sees itself as a rising space power and has launched a number of satellites, most of them through a partnership with the European Space Agency. The other major contributor to the project is China, which has pledged 200 million euros under an accord signed at an EU-China summit in Beijing last month.