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Things that can happen on Friday the thirteenth…

16. July 2012, 10.53, Jan Wörner, 0 Comment/s
Friday the thirteenth. In Paris. Was it a day like any other? No. What seemed like an entirely normal day at ESA, the meeting took an unusual turn. Whether this was an unlucky day or simply a day of perfectly normal chaos is a matter of personal judgement.

It started like (almost) any day; I arrived from Munich at my hotel in Paris shortly after midnight, with my first appointment scheduled for 07:15. First of all, I had to work my way through a queue of e-mails and send off my replies. At 07:15 my colleague Yannick d'Éscatha joined me at the hotel for an informal but very intensive breakfast meeting. The subject at hand was the concluding session of the CNES-DLR working group on space matters. The working party was established at the time of the German-French consultations held early this year.

The ESA marathon began at 09:00: ‘Restricted Council’, ‘Council Working Group’, ‘Heads of Delegations Lunch’ and ‘ESA Council’. Every session included particularly delicate topics. The Restricted Council reached a decision on the accession of Poland as a member state of ESA. The Council Working Group dealt with the various plans for the Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in November, while the Heads of Delegations meeting focused on the future relationship between ESA and the EU. The concluding Council session tackled resolutions in preparation for the Ministerial Council. From a German point of view, one of the resolutions (next generation launchers) was not acceptable in the form tabled. To bring about a change, we were able to claim that this point appeared rather late on the agenda. During lengthy and occasionally fairly heated discussions about formal aspects of the adoption of the agenda, the German proposal, which was to treat this point as a consultation topic rather than as a decision-making topic, was accepted.

At this point, the Chairman left the meeting and handed chairmanship of the session to the Head of the German Delegation – that is, to me (!) – as Vice Chairman of the ESA Council. This would not have been a problem for someone who had participated in the preparatory meeting. It also wouldn’t have been a problem had none of the points on the agenda been of a delicate nature for Germany. But that was exactly the case. Due to my meeting with Yannick d’Éscatha, I was unable to attend the preparatory meeting, and the agenda item dealing with the successor to Ariane 5 was a critical one, even in respect of its inclusion on the agenda. When you chair a meeting, you are of course obliged to remain neutral. By virtue of a relationship based on mutual trust with Gerd Gruppe and Rolf Densing, the two German delegates, constructive solutions could be found for all the ‘problems’.

The last point on the agenda for that day involved an invitation from the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to an event on the evening prior to the French national holiday, attended by the French Science Minister and at which the French President, Francois Hollande, was to give a speech. But, the programme was delayed to such an extent that I had to leave the venue before the singing of the Marseillaise, so I could catch the last flight back to Germany…

And that was Friday the thirteenth…

Top image: Dennis Skley (CC-BY-ND 2.0).


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