Twenty-three member states of the EU have laid the foundation for greater European autonomy on defence issues by committing to a far-reaching agreement on security and military cooperation.
Germany and France have backed plans to reboot EU defence operations, including an announcement in June of a 5.5-billion euro European Defence Fund.
"It's going to be quite a historic day for European defense", EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters before the meeting in Brussels at which ministers approved the plan.
This has led to unease by European allies that the United States was not committed to the alliance's mutual defence pact.
"This is complementary to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but we also see that nobody will solve the security problems that Europe has in its neighbourhood - we have to do it ourselves".
Participants have signed up to a list of commitments which "include increasing the share of expenditure allocated to defense research and technology with a view to nearing the 2 percent of total defense spending" and to "regularly increasing defense budgets in real terms".
"Today we will launch a new page for the European Defence", said Frederica Mogherini, the EU's foreign and defence policy representative.
"If there is a crisis in our neighborhood, we have to be able to act", she said.
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It pledges that countries will provide "substantial support" in such areas as personnel, equipment, training, and infrastructure for European Union military missions.
Their signatures are a sign of political will but the program will only enter force once it's been legally endorsed, probably in December.
Germany wanted as many countries as possible to sign up but wants to keep the focus on more modest schemes.
It foresees the possibility of a number of European Union member states working more closely together in the area of security and defence. "It has no chance of working".
All EU countries except Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Malta and Portugal said Monday they would sign up to the pact, which will be officially launched at a summit next month.
British foreign minister Boris Johnson said that even though it was not taking part, the United Kingdom saw promise in PESCO and pledged to be "supportive".
A first list of projects to be undertaken within the PESCO framework should be agreed by the participating member states once PESCO has been established.