Exclusive: SpaceX Accuses Europe's Ariane Of Unfair Competition

Elon Musk’s company has asked Washington to intervene about its top European competitor receiving public subsidies. It's an odd twist in the larger trade battle, as well as the evolving world of space business.

 Falcon 9 rocket from Space X at Kennedy Space Center in Florida
Falcon 9 rocket from Space X at Kennedy Space Center in Florida
Anne Bauer

PARIS — In a less tense geopolitical and commercial context between the US and Europe, the situation might generate a hearty laugh. SpaceX, the rocket manufacturer revolutionizing the space sector with its partially reusable rockets, is complaining to Washington about unfair competition from the longstanding European program Arianespace. SpaceX submitted a letter dated in December to a top U.S. trade official, of copy of which was recently obtained by Les Echos, denouncing subsidies from the EU and the French government, which it says artificially reduce the price of Arianespace's launch services on the international market.

While Europeans are busy worrying that Ariane 6 rockets will lose out against SpaceX's products, the company founded by Elon Musk has taken aim at the financial aid allocated by the European Spatial Agency (ESA). In the letter, addressed to Edward Gresser, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Trade Policy and Economics, the Californian company values the total subsidies between 1988 and 2012 at 13.2 billion euros. It also questions the public financing of the Kourou spaceport in Guyana, estimating that it allows Arianespace to exclude infrastructural weight in its commercial offerings.

The U.S. company, which set off price decreases across the space sector, is asking American officials to correct this unfair competition as part of their commercial negotiations with the EU, guaranteeing that Arianespace doesn't receive preferential treatment and that EU members don't discriminate against non-European manufacturers.

The money Europe has consecrated to space conquest is very modest compared to American and Chinese spending.

All of this is a bitterly amusing episode, considering that Arianespace has been fighting in vain for months to obtain a promise from European countries that they will launch their satellites on Ariane 6. For Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French government's space agency CNES, this motion is to be filed away as "background noise" in the commercial battle of space exploration. "In terms of launching, remember that the Buy American Act exists, which prohibits every American operator from using foreign rockets if a satellite has 51% of its components made in the USA," he points out.

And in terms of state funding, it should be noted that the money Europe has consecrated to space conquest is very modest compared to American and Chinese spending. The quest for strategic autonomy justifies public investments in space, and a perfectly free competition in the space launching sector isn't on the agenda, according to André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup.

SpaceX also clearly presented itself as the world leader of the space industry in the letter, with over 60 launches already executed for both governmental and commercial clients, as well as some 40 launches on order— all of which represents more than $12 billion in contracts.

This is a revealing number for a company that hardly communicates on the subject. It would mean an average price of $120 million per launch, far from the $60 million pricetag SpaceX on its commercial brochures.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!