STUTTGART, Germany — The United Kingdom will join a European Union initiative to help military troops and equipment move swiftly across the continent, with alliance officials citing Russia’s war against Ukraine as a critical factor in bringing the former EU member on board.
The announcement was made during a Nov. 15 meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on defense issues in Brussels, where the council adopted a decision to invite the UK to join the Permanent Structured Cooperation’s (PESCO) Military Mobility project, which was launched in 2018.
London recently requested to participate in the program, which aims to streamline and standardize cross-border military transport procedures within the EU, for example by cutting red tape on customs requirements between nations. Union ambassadors endorsed Britain’s inclusion in the program in mid-October, teeing up the formal decision at the defense and foreign ministers’ regular autumn session.
While the project is four years in the making, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused EU members to more readily focus on the need to quickly move across the continent.
“Sharing information and experiences with key partners is crucial. The PESCO project ‘Military Mobility’ provides the right platform in this regard,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, in a Tuesday statement. “Ensuring 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 we provide urgent military support to Ukraine.”
U.K. Minister of Defense Ben Wallace on Nov. 14 called the Military Mobility project “an important scheme for all of us to move our assets around Europe at the time of a war.”
During a bilateral press conference with Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, Wallace shared that Britain “still has concerns overall” with PESCO’s policy on third-party involvement, along with the protection of intellectual property. But he noted that this particular initiative made sense for both the EU and its former member.
“I take a pragmatic case-by-case basis. This [project] suited perfectly,” he said.
Lambrecht added that Germany appreciated that London will participate in the project, and called the U.K. “a very, very important” partner when it comes to deploying troops in Europe. British troops currently lead one of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) battle groups in Estonia, and a handful of Royal Air Force (RAF) service members participated in the recent “Baltic Tiger” exercise coordinated by Germany’s Air Force and Navy, at Estonia’s Ämari Air Base.
According to PESCO guidance, the Military Mobility project’s goals will be achieved via a number of working groups within and beyond the Union, and with EU institutions. The Netherlands serves as lead coordinator for the program, and other members include: Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Cyprus; the Czech Republic; Germany; Estonia; Greece; Spain; Finland; France; Croatia; Hungary; Italy; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Latvia; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Sweden; Slovenia; and Slovakia.
Canada, Norway and the United States joined the project as non-EU members in 2021, and at the time were the first third-party partners to join a PESCO project.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.