WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders are asking Congress for new authorities on cooperative defense programs with the European Union, a prospect that officials on both sides of the Atlantic say will complement traditional NATO processes. .
Defense officials here circulated legislative language to that effect on Capitol Hill this month in hopes of having it included in the annual defense policy bill now before Congress.
The text of the proposed bill would name the European Union, along with its associated bodies like the European Defense Agency, in the Arms Export Control Act, thereby enabling routine defense work with the bloc and its member countries.
“The United States must be able to continue information sharing and potential cooperative projects with the European Union and member nations to maintain a strong transatlantic relationship at the government, industry, and academic levels to address the common threats and to maintain consistency with NATO operations and interoperability of systems,” reads the legislative proposal, posted on a Pentagon website.
According to the document, its primary focus is the necessary authorizations for joint research, development, testing and evaluation, “including the potential purchase of items or services” to support such activities.
The congressional push essentially lays the domestic groundwork for Washington to participate in the European Union’s emerging weapons development efforts, though the jury is still out on their effectiveness. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has shown that US military prowess remains the backbone of transatlantic deterrence, as governments orchestrate military and humanitarian aid to kyiv.
“The United States is not a member of the EU and does not have a formal voice in discussions of defense requirements within the EU,” notes the proposed language. “Furthermore, European defense and security development efforts are increasingly established as part of EU-managed efforts.”
Meanwhile, work on a crucial pact between the US Department of Defense and the European Defense Agency remains unfinished, a Pentagon spokesperson told Defense News. A so-called administrative arrangement between the two organizations has been in the works since last year. The document will define the key rules governing future cooperation projects, such as participation channels, information sharing and use of intellectual property.
In the eyes of the EU, the participation of a non-bloc member in membership programs and – potentially – multi-billion euro funding streams aimed primarily at member countries requires careful justification on the basis of exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe Editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, as well as US-EU cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as editor of Defense News.