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The European Intervention Initiative is a French-led initiative that was set out by President Macron in September 2017 as part of his vision for a “sovereign, united and democratic Europe”.

Participation is by invitation only and a Letter of Intent launching the initiative was signed by nine European countries on 25 June 2018. Finland has since joined the EII, taking the current number of participating European countries to 10. Italy formally announced its willingness to join in mid-September 2019.

At its heart the EII will be a flexible and non-binding forum of European states that are able, and willing, to engage their military forces when and where necessary in order to protect European security interests across the spectrum of crises, and without prejudice to the framework through which action is taken (i.e. the UN, NATO, the EU or as an ad hoc coalition).

It will not create a standing European force, nor does it envisage the creation of a new rapid reaction force. Participation in any of its specific initiatives, or any military operations that result, will be subject to sovereign national decision-making. The EII also intends to contribute towards ongoing efforts within the EU and NATO to deepen defence cooperation.

Relationship with the EU and NATO

The EII is European in focus but entirely independent of the European Union and NATO with respect to their decision-making structures.

By remaining autonomous from the EU, the EII allows the full participation of Denmark, which has an opt-out from the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It also provides an avenue for post-Brexit participation by the UK in European security issues.

It is also not dissimilar to many of the groupings or ad hoc coalitions of states that have gone before it, such as OCCAR, the Visegrad group or Nordic Defence Cooperation, which have often been motivated by converging regional interests or in recognition of the need for European states “to do more” in security terms.

There has, however, been some concern over the relationship between the EII and EU-led defence projects such as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), given that the Letter of Intent makes a direct link between the EII and European defence integration. In an effort to clarify that relationship the French Ministry of Defense has confirmed that while the intention is to develop a relationship between EII and the EU that is mutually beneficial, they will remain entirely independent of each other.

Involvement of the UK

The UK first signalled its intent to get involved in January 2018 following a Franco-British summit on defence cooperation and is one of the signatories to the Letter of Intent.

Given that the EII is a defence initiative outside of the governance of the European Union, UK participation in it will not be affected in any way by Brexit. However, UK participation in an initiative that is so closely linked to EU defence projects, and PESCO in particular, has raised some concerns among pro-Brexit commentators who fear that the initiative could involve Britain in an embryonic European Army ‘by the back door’.

The future

Once the initiative is mature enough, an invitation to participate could be extended to other European countries that are politically willing and militarily capable.

In the longer term how the EII evolves will, like many European defence initiatives before it, rely on the continued political will of the participating States and whether it can exist alongside EU and NATO structures and complement their efforts, while at the same time avoiding duplication. Importantly, it will depend on how France as the lead nation behind this initiative can maintain the autonomy and exclusivity of the EII while rebuffing efforts by Germany to tie it into EU structures and EU-led projects such as PESCO, which Germany has clearly stated as an expectation.

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