Now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union, how is that going to affect the European Space Agency? How much funding and participation does ESA receive from the UK based on the EU relationship? Are there other potential issues with the UK leaving the EU in regards to ESA?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's too early to draw conclusion yet anyway. UK is still not officially leaving the UE. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ It may affect the UK's role in ESA-EU collaboration. For more on such collaboration, see information from ESA (human-readable) and information from the EU (less so). $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ Probably, since a UKexit will lead to the independence of Scotland, so ESA might get one more member. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


The EU and ESA are not related. They have different member states, where neither is a subset of the other. The only potential issue is simply economic. If the British exit from the EU results in a depressed UK economy, then they may elect to participate less in ESA.

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Not to mention a depressed UK scientific community... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 6:47
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    $\begingroup$ While true, this answer could be expanded. EU and ESA do have extensive collaboration through, for example, Copernicus and Galileo, in which the UK play a major role. Will the EU still be funding ESA activities within the UK if Brexit happens? And it may also affect the UK ability to recruit. See information from ESA (human-readable) and information from the EU (less so). $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 9:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your answer provides the additional information. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkAdler True, and my answer could still be expanded by someone who knows more behind-the-scene details than I do. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ While EU and ESA are not related, the UK would lost European Commission programs, and there is a lot of money in several projects there, including Galileo, Copernicus, Horizon 2020, etc. $\endgroup$
    – siritinga
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 20:12

The effect should be small, but possibly non-zero. There currently exists growing cooperation between EU and ESA.

Within the EU-ESA membership agreement, one of the noted obstacles is the membership asymmetry:

2.2. Membership asymmetry

At present, 17 EU Member States are Members of ESA. ESA's members include Norway and Switzerland, which are not EU members. Canada has a bilateral cooperation agreement with ESA. As the collaboration between the EU and ESA grows, this asymmetry combined with a voting system where each Member State has one vote in the ESA Council and the key decisions within this body are adopted by unanimity gives ESA members, which are not members of the EU, disproportionate leverage over matters that may affect the EU. In addition the asymmetry complicates discussions particularly as regards security and defence matters as indicated below.

If the UK leaves the EU, the UK would be added to the ranks of Norway and Switzerland. Currently, the UK influences ESA directly as a member state, and indirectly through the EU-ESA cooperation. Its influence would likely diminish if it becomes an ESA-only member like Norway and Switzerland.

This UK House of Commons publication contains more information.


On paper it should make no difference given that there are many non EU members contributing to the ESA budget. Reality, however, is often very different than paper.

The politics of the current situation are difficult to predict. Certainly, the national governments of France, Germany and Italy will find it politically impossible to support any major collaborative aerospace projects based primarily in the UK.

If the UK feels marginalised by the major EU powers within ESA then the UK government may respond by reducing the contribution to the budget, which will exacerbate the problem.

I don't think its possible to extrapolate any further given the current global political and economic uncertainty following on from last Thursday's referendum result.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This sounds like an opinion. Any way you can back up that France, Germany, and Italy will find UK-based projects politically impossible to support? $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage, Italy at least has already stated steep conditions on the UK even remaining a trading partner of the EU, namely that it accept the thing the Leave campaign most wanted to get rid of, the free movement of people across it's border. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @ryan Related and possibly a good indicator, but it wouldn't necessarily have an effect on the ESA. It would at least be good to bring the source(s) mentioning that into this answer. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage, Yea sorry, I wasn't clear. I didn't want to state that as a direct correlation, merely as related and an indicator of how their relationships are already falling out. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 17:45

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