WASHINGTON — The European Council has approved a signature-ready agreement with the U.S. Defense Department that is meant to facilitate defense cooperation, though the area of joint capability development is explicitly outside the pact’s scope.
The draft arrangement between the European Defence Agency and the Pentagon comes after years of both sides dancing around the subject of allowing the U.S. government and its vast defense-industrial complex into the growing circle of European Union defense projects.
The Brussels-based agency is a key player in facilitating such cooperation because its administrative arrangements with non-EU countries essentially impose the bloc’s regulatory regime for everything from export controls to intellectual property on any work product.
The draft, announced Monday, aims to “enable a substantial defense dialogue on all topics within EDA’s remit, and invitations for U.S. DoD to attend relevant meetings of EDA’s Steering Board and vice versa,” according to an EDA statement.
The document envisages as “specific activities” the areas of military mobility, supply chain problems and the impact of climate change on defense. The term “military mobility” describes efforts to streamline the transportation of defense equipment across European borders — a bureaucratic and technological hurdle.
Notably, the draft excludes any cooperative work that entails research and technology, noted Marie Jourdain, a Europe analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
She told Defense News the new language reflects the fact that EU officials were always wary of American export-control rules of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations policy seeping into trans-Atlantic cooperative projects.
While questions over export controls are inconsequential when the work product is procedural in nature — like in the case of military mobility, where the DoD is already involved — any work aimed at developing new hardware would be subject to conflicting rules, she said.
“We’ll have to see what the new agreement means for PESCO,” said Jourdain, referring to the collection of 60 distinct EU defense projects that aim to resolve capability shortfalls across all military domains.
According to a fact sheet provided by the European Parliament, an administrative arrangement between EDA and a non-EU country is a “prerequisite” for PESCO participation.
With the new arrangement now excluding any cooperative activities aimed at capability development or involving research and technology, many projects will likely remain closed for U.S. participation, Jourdain said.
Similar language, she noted, was already in effect in the PESCO rules themselves, which fence off EU funding from non-bloc participants.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.