Nine EU member states are set to sign off on the establishment of a joint European military intervention force, an initiative which has won the backing of the UK as it seeks to maintain defence ties after Brexit.
Spearheaded by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the European force will be designed to deploy and coordinate forces rapidly to deal with crises around the world.
Defence ministers from France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Spain and Portugal were expected to sign a letter of intent in Luxembourg on Monday.
Since the election of its new government, Italy has backtracked on its initial support, but Rome has not ruled out the country’s future involvement.
Macron outlined his vision of strategic autonomy for European defence in a keynote Sorbonne speech last September.
The development has caused some anxiety within Nato, where officials are concerned about any duplication of roles and distancing from the US.
Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, is in Luxembourg for discussions on European security and defence, before a summit of the military alliance in Brussels next month.
France’s defence minister, Florence Parly, told the newspaper Le Figaro on Sunday: “Defence Europe requires a common strategic culture … The deadlines and decisions in the EU are still much too long compared to the urgency that can arise from a critical situation in a country where Europeans would consider that there is a strong stake for their security.”
The European Intervention Initiative is outside the EU’s structures, so will allow for full UK involvement after Brexit.
Parly said: “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.”
The UK has traditionally been wary of efforts to build a European defence cooperation that could challenge Nato structures, but has become a champion of such initiatives since the vote to leave the EU.
A French government source said the UK’s involvement was key, as the two military powers shared similar cultures and analytical approaches on how to tackle a crisis. “That culture is not shared between every EU member state,” the source said.
The initiative is expected to aid joint planning on events such as natural disasters, crisis intervention or the evacuation of citizens from hot spots.
Since 2007, the EU has had four multinational military “battle groups” but the troops have never been deployed.