Jean-François Mayence, the space lawyer

1. What is (are) your current job title(s), and what does it (do they) mean?

I’m in charge of the Legal Unit « International Relations » at BELSPO (Belgian Federal Office for Science Policy). In that capacity, I assume several functions:

  1. legal advice and support to other departments and entities of BELSPO in the conduct of their international relations;
  2. representation of Belgium in several international organisations’ bodies dedicated to space law (United Nations, European Union, European Space Agency) and other branches of international law related to scientific research areas (Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting for Antarctica);
  3. eurocoordination for BELSPO;
  4. implementation of the Belgian space law.

2. Why is your job important?

Management of public affairs features a strong part of legal job. In a non-legal environment (management of scientific, cultural and technological activities), the challenge is to make sure that the policy remains compliant with the rules. Besides, the work of the lawyer in such an context is clearly related to the creation of new rules and framework. There is a very important part of the job which requires open-mindedness and imagination. In BELSPO, lawyers are more in charge of supporting than of regulating.

3. What led you to that career path?

I’m interested in Space Law since 1992. I studied Air & Sea Law and had the opportunity to work with BELSPO. I’m with BELSPO since January, 1st  1999. This is a quite unique job in Belgium if you are interested in that area of work.

4. How would you describe your typical work day?

Preparing international meetings (some you have to chair, other you have to participate in), preparing notes and memo’s for Minister(s) or colleagues, reading documentation, replying to emails, being able to switch in 30 seconds from the EU Directive on multimedia services to the status of the Princess Elizabeth Station in Antarctica, from a question on ESA industrial policy to a phone call about the statutes of an association for the promotion of women in sciences, or about the hosting of an international association in Brussels, etc.

5. What is the most exciting thing you ever had the chance to do?

Many things should be mentioned here, but I would say to visit the Houston NASA Centre in 2002, to go and see the launch of Frank De Winne in Kazakhstan, in 2002, and to meet female astronauts from the whole world, including Valentina Tereshkova (first woman in outer space), in 2012.

6. What advice would you give to your young self?

Be polyvalent, open to all aspects, even the less attractive ones: they’re the fair price to pay for an interesting job and  they might eventually be rewarding.

Develop language skills. Enjoy the flexibility of your work to the full, e.g. by making proposals on the basis of what is requested from you, by submitting new ideas.


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