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Money row puts GPS rival at risk

European Union officials have warned that the launching of a rival to the US-run global position system (GPS) satellite navigation system could be stalled again because of trouble getting financing approved at the European Space Agency (ESA), a partner in the controversial project.

Citing the ‘strategic importance’ of the so-called ‘Galileo’ programme, EU Commission vice-president Loyola de Palacio said its future ‘must not be delayed’ yet again by new squabbles over money and which country gets what contracts.

The schedule must be maintained to provide Galileo positioning services by 2008′ or risk losing Europe’s chance to break into the market before an upgraded GPS goes online, she said.

After much lengthy bickering, the EU and the ESA last year pledged about 550 million euros (S$1 billion) each in start-up funds.

But unanimous agreement among the 15 ESA member states is needed to release the funds, and talks broke down last month over differences on the industrial return from the programme.

Germany was unhappy at sharing project leadership with Italy, and Spain was upset that its participation was being trimmed.