BRUSSELS -- The European Union has moved toward closer defense ties with more than 20 member states committing to deepen cooperation and improve coordination in the development of military hardware.
Meeting in Brussels on November 13, the foreign and defense ministers of France, Germany, and 21 other member states signed a notification of their intention to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense, or PESCO.
The initiative is expected to be officially launched when EU leaders meet in the Belgian capital on December 14-15.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed the signing of the document as a “historic moment.”
“This is the beginning of a common work. Twenty-three member states engaging both on capabilities and on operational steps is something big,” she said.
The pact, which has been in the works for more than a year, is part of efforts led by Germany and France to push closer defense ties as a way of rebooting the bloc after Britain's referendum to leave.
EU diplomats told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that Britain's decision last year to quit the bloc and U.S. President Donald Trump's push for European allies to raise their contributions to the defense of the continent have prompted EU members to act.
The notification letter -- co-authored by France, Germany, Italy, and Spain -- described the pact as “an ambitious, binding, and inclusive European legal framework for investment in the security and defense of the EU's territory and its citizens.”
It also provides a “crucial political framework” for EU member states to improve their military assets and defense capabilities through coordinated initiatives.
Participation in PESCO is voluntary and the EU member states that choose to sit out now will have the possibility to join later.
Ireland, Portugal, and Malta are undecided whether to join.
Denmark and Britain, which have long had opt-outs on EU defense matters, are not expected to participate.
Countries that are not in the EU could take part in specific missions, opening the way to possible participation by Britain after Brexit -- though they will have no role in decision-making.
The notification letter said PESCO “shall be consistent with commitments” under NATO. Its annex stated that “a long term vision of PESCO could be to arrive at a coherent full spectrum force package – in complementarity with NATO, which will continue to be the cornerstone of collective defense for its members.”
Projects that are likely to be considered in the upcoming years are a European medical command and a network of logistics hubs in Europe, the creation of a European crisis response center, and joint training of military officers. Joint operations and reducing the number of European weapons systems are also expected to be considered.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AFP, Reuters, and dpa