A letter of intent on the so-called European Intervention Initiative (EII) was signed Monday by France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Spain and Portugal, media reported.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted Monday that the objective of the EII was for "our forces to learn to know each other and act together." "We will be ready to anticipate crises and respond quickly and usefully," she added.
In an interview published Sunday evening in the French newspaper Le Figaro, she said that Italy was still considering joining the first nine countries to sign on, though Rome has taken a step back from its initial support for the initiative since the election of its new government.
As an initiative established outside both EU and NATO frameworks, the EII would allow co-signatories to react to situations near Europe's borders without the need for support from the United States.
The French Defense Ministry has indicated that the EII would involve "work on joint planning on scenarios for potential crises able to threaten European security," such as natural disasters, mass evacuations of citizens, and other events.
"A Europe of Defense needs a shared strategic culture," Parly said.
"If it was necessary to relive an operation like Serval in Mali, we would like to be able to do it as several parties. And yet, the time necessary and the decisions required in the framework of the EU are far too long regarding the urgency which could give birth to a critical situation in a country where Europeans would consider that there are high stakes for their security," the French defense minister said.
The European Intervention Initiative was first proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in a September 2017 speech, but it was met with skepticism given recent EU decisions to create frameworks for Common European Defense, such as the PESCO agreement, as well as recent decisions by NATO to revamp and reinforce its operations and capabilities in Europe.
Observers note that Macron foresaw a need to keep defense cooperation strong with the London after Brexit, with Parly saying, "This is clearly an initiative that allows some non-EU states to associate. The UK has been very good because it wants to maintain cooperation with Europe beyond bilateral ties."
Britain has traditionally been hesitant to join defense initiatives that could compete or overlap with NATO capabilities, but pressure to maintain links with the EU post-Brexit, particularly in a period when Washington's NATO relations have been under tension, have led London to support the EII.
Germany, initially reluctant as well, signed on to the EII after assuring with Paris that the initiative would maintain "strong links" with the PESCO agreement, launched within the framework of EU treaties, and co-signed by 25 of the 28 members of the bloc.