Tuesday, August 29

Wie komme ich am besten zum Bahnhof, baby?

Europe loves nothing more than a big project, something to really put it on the map. It is constantly on the look out for ideas, so if you have any you should get in touch with the European Commission. I’m sure they’d jump on it. Particularly if the US has already been there and got the t-shirt, preferably several years previously. But don’t bother calling if your idea is a common currency - some member states managed to get one introduced in 2002 – or European search engine to try to curtail the influence of google - backed with a sizeable chunk of French and German funds, Quaero is apparently a soon to be unveiled attempt to create euroGoogle – or an aircraft company to rival Boeing.

Another idea already taken, I’m afraid, is that of a European GPS system. The Galileo positioning system - named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (was science really so rock’n’roll that they needed stage names in the 16th Century?) - is a proposed satellite navigation system, to be built by the EU as an alternative to the Global Positioning System (which is controlled by the United States military) and the Russian GLONASS. The system, which should be operational by 2010, is intended to provide:
· Greater precision to all users than is currently available.
· Improved coverage of satellite signals at higher latitudes, which northern regions such as Scandinavia will benefit from.
· A positioning system upon which European nations can rely even in times of war or political disagreement.

Now these may all seem like perfectly legitimate reasons for a European positioning system - or they may appear like ridiculous excuses - I just think that it is a valuable opportunity missed. What Europe really should have done is to focus on the end market applications. Its where the EU could make a real difference to the lives of its citizens. Here’s my thinking:

As a well-known comedian once noted, GPS is like your wife. When things are going well and you are obeying her orders, everyone is happy. As she (for GPS is invariably female – ironic given that gender’s reputation for map reading) purrs ‘please turn right here’ or ‘straight ahead for 200 metres’ you can almost imagine her being as a deliciously restrained Mrs Moneypenny. As soon as you put a foot out of line, however, she snaps utterly and immediately, ‘I said turn right HERE. HERE. NOW. FOR GOD SAKE MAN WOULD YOU EVER JUST LISTEN TO WHAT I AM TELLING YOU AND TURN RIGHT IMMEDIATELY’. A complete battleaxe. And what makes the wife comparison even more eerily accurate is that she is normally completely wrong.

Given all of this, what the Europeans need to concentrate on more than the space satellites that provide you with your position is on the actual GPS – or Galileo if you prefer - applications installed in your car. Give Galileo an upper class British accent and have her say things like ‘ooo you naughty boy, you were supposed to have turned right there but nevermind, you’re the boss.’ Or perhaps for the German market, Fraulein Ingrid could, at the end of a successful navigation, mutter things like, ‘Reinhard, you are so punctual, have you ever been late’? Imagine the commercial success you would be looking at in the respective markets.

It is here that the Europeans can steal a real march on the Americans. Now I know the Beach Boys were full of praise for the diversity of American women but they can keep the mid-west farmers daughters and even their Californian girls if a European GPS system could give us a glimpse of sassy Sweden or sumptuous Slovenia. Picture this, you step into your car and turn it on to be greeted by the following dulcet tones, ‘hallo its Inga here, are you gonna take me for a little ride today’. Goddamn right Inga, let’s get it on.

Jeremy Clarkson is on holidays



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