eso9413 — Organisation Release
ESO Council Decides to Continue VLT Project at Paranal
9 August 1994
The Council  of the European Southern Observatory has met in extraordinary session at the ESO Headquarters in Garching near Munich on August 8 and 9, 1994. The main agenda items were concerned with the recent developments around ESO's relations with the host state, the Republic of Chile, as well as the status of the organisation's main project, the 16-metre equivalent Very Large Telescope (VLT) which will become the world's largest optical telescope.
Council had decided to hold this special meeting  because of various uncertainties that have arisen in connection with the implementation of the VLT Project at Cerro Paranal, approx. 130 kilometres south of Antofagasta, capital of the II Region in Chile.
Following continued consultations at different levels within the ESO member states and after careful consideration of all aspects of the current situation - including various supportive actions by the Chilean Government as well as the incessive attacks against this international organisation from certain sides reported in the media in that country - Council took the important decision to continue the construction of the VLT Observatory at Paranal, while at the same time requesting the ESO Management to pursue the ongoing studies of alternative solutions.
THE COUNCIL DECISIONS
In particular, the ESO Council took note of recent positive developments which have occurred since the May 1994 round of discussions with the Chilean authorities in Santiago. The confirmation of ESO's immunities as an International Organization in Chile, contained in a number of important statements and documents, is considered a significant step by the Chilean Government to insure to ESO the unhindered erection and later operation of the VLT on Paranal.
Under these circumstances and in order to maintain progress on the VLT project, the ESO Council authorized the ESO Management to continue the on-site work at Paranal.
Council also took note of the desire expressed by the Chilean Government to complete negotiation of a Supplementary and Amending Agreement and it was decided that a Council Delegation shall conclude as soon as possible the negotiation of this Agreement. Council noted that the Chilean Delegation has accepted ESO's invitation to hold the final round of negotiations in Europe and proposed that this final round shall be held in the period Sept. 15 - Oct. 15, 1994.
Nonetheless, Council also expressed its preoccupation with regard to remaining ambiguities contained in some official statements according to which the formal recognition of ESO's status on Paranal would depend on the conclusion of the above mentioned Agreement. At the May 1994 meetings in Santiago , understanding had been reached that this Agreement will merely confirm the already existing legal situation. The main objective is to expand the cooperation between Chile and ESO by granting ensured access for Chilean astronomers to ESO's facilities and incorporate elements of Chilean labour legislation into the ESO internal staff regulations.
In view of these circumstances, and pending the successful conclusion of these negotiations, Council therefore instructed the ESO Management to continue exploring alternative sites for the VLT.
In a final statement, the ESO Council again expressed its hope that the scientific co-operation between Europe and Chile in the field of astronomy which began in 1963 will continue to develop and expand well into the next century to the mutual benefit of science in both communities.
CONTINUATION OF THE VLT PROJECT
In practical terms, the above decision by Council implies that ESO will now initiate the steps necessary to move from Europe to Paranal the main mechanical parts of the rotating dome (total weight around 500 tonnes) for the first VLT 8.2-metre unit telescope.
It is expected that the sea transport will take place in September-October of this year and that assembly at Paranal will begin soon thereafter, once the concrete base, now under construction, is ready. This will enable the 500 million DEM VLT Project to stay within the planned timeline for completion just after the year 2000.
1. The Council of ESO consists of two representatives from each of the eight member states. It is the highest authority of the organisation and normally meets twice a year.
2. See eso9412 of June 10, 1994.