BERN --- The Federal Council wants to improve Switzerland’s access to satellite images. At its meeting on November 25, 2020, it adopted a message for this purpose concerning an appropriation of 82 million [Swiss] francs. It calls on Parliament to approve a framework agreement providing for bilateral cooperation with France in the field of satellite imagery.
High-resolution satellites are playing an increasing role in our country's security interests. As Switzerland does not currently have any capability in this area, it depends on images and data delivered by commercial service providers.
France, which is currently setting up an optical recognition satellite system meeting high-level requirements (Optical Space Component, CSO), has offered its access to several nations, including Switzerland.
The first of the three planned satellites was put into orbit at the end of 2018; and the system should be fully operational in 2022. On November 25, 2020, the Federal Council adopted a decision on a framework agreement providing for cooperation between Switzerland and France for the use of the CSO system and on the related credit submitted to the Parliament.
Programming rights and data access
A draft treaty providing for bilateral cooperation with France was drawn up on the basis of negotiations carried out in September 2019 by the Federal Council. Switzerland is granted the right to participate in satellite programming. Its image and data controls can influence the program, including shots from CSO satellites. It also benefits from access to 2% of the images taken daily as well as to the system's image archives, managed by France.
In addition, a Franco-Swiss working group will examine the options for deepening scientific and technological collaboration. A commitment credit of 82 million swiss francs is requested for the entire project. This amount covers in particular the programming rights and the installation of a receiving station in Switzerland.
Importance for security assessments
This cooperation in the use of the CSO system allows Switzerland to access more relevant and higher resolution images. These optical recognition means reinforce the country's autonomy in matters of assessment and decision-making in the security field, which is necessary given the global situation, which is constantly changing. At the same time, this data can also be very useful for peace promotion, disaster relief and humanitarian response.
Compatible with neutrality
Such bilateral cooperation does not call into question the neutrality of our country. Switzerland receives benefits; it does not provide data or assessments. In addition, a suspension clause allows it to interrupt this cooperation at any time for reasons of neutrality.
It should also be noted that Switzerland's financial contribution is quite modest compared to the total cost of the project, and that a multi-year financing plan (including the suspension clause) eliminates any risk for Switzerland and its policy of neutrality.