EU gives UK green light to join enhanced EU defence cooperation

18 November 2022

In a move that will strengthen EU-UK defence cooperation, the European Council this week adopted its decision to allow the participation of the UK in PESCO project, Military Mobility. A key NATO ally, the UK is now the fourth non-EU Member State to join the initiative after Canada, Norway and the US. 

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has demonstrated how fundamentally important it is that the EU and its partners are able to move troops and military equipment swiftly across Europe and beyond. By facilitating the sharing of information, experiences, tools, equipment and personnel, the PESCO Military Mobility project seeks to assist exactly that. In essence, the PESCO project Military Mobility seeks to improve national measures to accelerate military mobility between EU Member States. The EU’s positive response to the UK’s application to join the PESCO project will be welcomed by many, and more specifically provide assurances to the EU’s more eastern Member States. As project coordinator, the Netherlands will now formally invite the UK to join the PESCO project.

Announcing the decision this week, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell stated how following decisions taken by the US, Canada and Norway to join the project earlier this year, the UK’s “participation is yet another proof of the importance” of the project. Mr Borell further explained how ensuring the fast movement and secure transport of armed forces “is crucial to improve the EU and NATO’s ability to respond to crises, in particular now” as urgent military support if provided to Ukraine. 

In an effort to strengthen EU defence cooperation, the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) was established in 2017. It is one of the pillars of EU Defence Policy and provides a framework for defence cooperation among EU Member States. With 25 MS currently involved, EU governments are not obliged to partake in PESCO Initiatives. PESCO currently has 60 projects underway. Under PESCO, participating Member States develop defence capabilities, coordinate investments, enhance their operational readiness and resilience of their armed forces, and collaborate in projects.  In line with the rules agreed in November 2020, third countries can exceptionally be invited to participate in a specific initiative, as long as they meet a number of political and legal factors and can add value to the project. 

Over six years since the British electorate voted to leave the EU, the UK is now about to join an EU-led defence project. Although this move will be welcomed by many and encouraged by those who believe in deeper post-Brexit EU-UK cooperation, it is likely to revive debate in the UK and EU on UK-EU defence cooperation in the longer term.