The European Union has agreed to allow the United States, Canada and Norway to join one of its military initiatives aimed at speeding up the deployment of troops and equipment around Europe.
Defence ministers from EU countries have given the green light for the three to join the bloc's "Military Mobility" project, designed to ease bureaucratic procedures that slow troop deployments.
The PESCO project is a strategic platform aimed at enabling the swift and seamless movement of military personnel and assets throughout the EU, whether by rail, road, air or sea.
More than 70,000 US military personnel are stationed in Europe, partly to help reassure Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland that they will be defended in case of any aggression from Russia.
Canada leads a NATO battlegroup stationed in the region near Russia's border and Norway is involved too. A priority for the military alliance is to be able to move troops and equipment rapidly.
Beyond border red tape, the smooth deployment of forces is also often hindered by ill-adapted infrastructure like roads and bridges unable to handle heavy vehicles and tanks, airstrips too short for certain kinds of warplanes and ports too shallow to allow some ships to dock.
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer described the move as, “a quantum jump in our concrete cooperation”.
“This is a special moment, especially for Germany, because we fought hard in our Council Presidency to ensure that the three countries could participate in such projects," she added.
“We, in particular, who see ourselves as a logistical hub in Europe, see this as an enormous step in the practical capabilities of European armed forces as well. And we see this as another big step in the transatlantic alliance and in the cooperation between the European Union and NATO."
It is the first time that the EU will allow outside countries to join its system of military projects and marks a sign of improving EU-NATO cooperation. It will also be seen as an indication that U.S. President Joe Biden is happier about closer military relations with Europe than his predecessor, Donald Trump.