For a long time, Warsaw has been looking for opportunities to boost regional cooperation with its neighbours. Now plans for the so-called Carpathian Strategy have gained the support of some countries in the region, paving the way for a series of joint projects partly funded by the EU.
On Wednesday (5 September) during the Economic Forum in the small Polish city of Krynica-Zdrój, officials from Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary signed the so-called Carpathian Declaration. It aims at cooperation in infrastructure, ecology, tourism, innovation and investment through a range of joint projects.
“The main goal is to change the perception of the Carpathians – today seen as a peripheral macroregion. The Carpathians connect different regions and countries on many levels: geographic, ethnological, culinary, natural, historical, tourist and many others. All you need is these scattered puzzles to organise and create a platform for cooperation, which will be the Carpathian Strategy,” said Polish Minister of Investment and Development Jerzy Kwieciński.
According to the communiqué issued by the signatory parties, the benefits of the declaration will include “a new impetus for cooperation in the field of investment” and guarantee access to funds in the EU budget.
Ultimately the work on the project, initiated by Poland, could pave the way for an application to the EU institutions in order to establish a new macro-regional strategy for the development of the Carpathian region.
“We would like the ‘Carpathian Strategy’ to be a new instrument and the fifth strategy in the EU,” Kwieciński told Polish television TVP Info. He added that the government wants to move cooperation within the framework of the Carpathian Euroregion to a higher level than presently available.
“This means that cooperation is carried out not only through local and regional governments, but also by states, and even under natural supervision by the European Commission,” Kwieciński emphasised.
Other countries will be able to join the four signatories if they declare an interest.
Currently, the EU has 4 macro-regional strategies: The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (2009), the Danube Region (2011), the Adriatic-Ionian Region (2014) and the recent Strategy for the Alpine Region (2015).
Connecting Eastern Europe through Via Carpathia
A part of the new Carpathian Strategy could also include the Via Carpathia project, a planned international infrastructure route to integrate transport systems of Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece and build the first north-to-south motorway in Eastern Europe.
It was originally initiated by Poland in the years of the first PiS government in 2006 and revived after the 2015 elections.
Earlier this summer, the project was entered into a draft regulation on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). Poland’s Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk then emphasised that thanks to this, it will be easier to obtain EU funds for the route’s construction.
According to the Polish ministry of infrastructure, the resources have already been secured for the entire course.
The route would run from Klaipeda and Kaunas in Lithuania through Białystok, Lublin, Rzeszów and Slovak Košice to Debrecen in Hungary, and further to the seaports of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece in the Black and Aegean Sea. The construction of offshoots to Ukraine and Belarus as well as ports in Gdynia and Gdansk is also planned.
However, the level of advancement in the individual countries is varying in many of the countries. As the entire Via Carpatia trail is expected to be about 7,700 km long, there are some doubts that the project will be completed until the end of 2024 as was initially planned.
Some experts have challenged the rationale for building a road from north to south of Europe, pointing out that for Poland and its neighbours, the main economic relations are still taking place along the East-West axis.
Others hope that the Carpathian Strategy would strengthen cooperation in the European north-south axis and say it would be linked to the Three Seas Initiative, an economic alliance of the countries between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas established in 2016.
The block formation comes at a time, as the governments of Poland and Hungary are at caught in a dispute with Brussels over the rule of law and the migration.