The AEGIS initiative is the brain child of the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR). At the present time, plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) in Europe are conserved in some 650 institutions scattered over about 43 European countries. While coordination of activities is carried out within the framework of the ECPGR and the ECPGR Crop Working Groups, each genebank basically operates on its own, providing for the conservation of a full range of crop germplasm important for agriculture in the area it serves.

With this in mind, the countries of the European region believe that there is a need to improve coordination and share responsibilities with respect to the conservation of, management of and access to PGRFA in Europe by setting up AEGIS. The legal mechanism for establishing AEGIS is the  Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) (223 KB) entered into by eligible countries of the region and the European Commission. The MoU sets out their commitments as full Members of AEGIS and the main lines of AEGIS. To be eligible for membership, the countries listed must be members of ECPGR, and either Contracting Parties to the Treaty or otherwise willing to make PGRFA under their jurisdiction available under the conditions of the Treaty.

The MoU has come into force in July 2009. The MoU is supplemented by a series of Associate Member Agreements for the individual genebanks and other institutions that wish to become part of AEGIS.