The British tabloids may not believe it, but the Hundred Years’ War and the Battle of Waterloo have been consigned to history. This week, France and the United Kingdom announced an unprecedented agreement to pool military resources, which has no equivalent elsewhere in Europe.

Under the terms of the pact agreed on 2 November, the British and French military will establish a “combined joint expeditionary force” of 5,000 troops and share two aircraft carriers by 2020. There will also be industrial cooperation to develop drones, satellites and communications technology. But the most surprising and highly symbolic aspect of the deal concerns British military use of French nuclear testing equipment, which is set to begin in 2014.

For France, to collaborate with a country that already has an extensive nuclear co-operation programme with the US, is a major paradigm shift from the defence doctrine based on national sovereignty established by de Gaulle. It’s a move that will blur the traditional distinction between the two philosophies of European defence — one provided by NATO under the American nuclear umbrella, and a European defence associated with NATO but nonetheless capable of autonomous action. Let’s not forget that France only rejoined the integrated military command of NATO in April 2009.

The new agreement is both good and bad news for Europe. The good news is that the Franco-British initiative could pave the way for further European synergies in a field that has a critical impact on the global influence of the EU. The bad news is that this will only happen if it is expanded beyond its current bilateral format. Writing in El País, Spanish international affairs specialist José Ignacio Torreblanca remarks that the problem with the 2 November accord is the fact that it does not refer to Europe’s defence and security policy. The agreement may well be historic, but without European involvement, it will amount to little more than another cost-cutting measure prompted by the economic crisis.

When they met in Saint-Malo in 1998, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair announced that a new era of Franco-British military cooperation would push forward the agenda for European defence. However, their plans were later derailed by disagreement over the invasion of Iraq. If they want to revive this ambition, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron will have to add further political dimension to their vision for military cooperation.