Three Seas Initiative inches forward as US ramps up support

Three Seas Initiative summit showing from L-R Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Polish President Andrzej Duda participating in the working session with other European leaders in Tallinn, Estonia, 19 October 2020 [EPA-EFE/ARNO MIKKOR HANDOUT]

The Three Seas Initiative virtual summit held in Estonia on Monday (20 October) saw further consolidation between its 12 members. At the same time, the US has started seeing the project as a vehicle to win the geopolitical battle for ‘hearts and minds’ in the region, in a bid to reduce Chinese and Russian influence there.

The Three Seas Initiative (3SI), established in 2015 on the initiative of the Polish and Croatian presidents Andrzej Duda and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, was launched as a forum to discuss joint transport, energy and digital infrastructure projects for the region.

It brings together 12 EU countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia – between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas.

So far, the initiative has already supported several infrastructure projects such as the Via Carpatia, running from Klaipeda in Lithuania to Thessaloniki in Greece, the Rail Baltica railway connection from Warsaw via Riga to Tallinn with a ferry crossing to Helsinki, or the Danube-Oder-Elbe inland waterway connection.

For that purpose, a commercially managed 3SI Investment Fund was set up by a Polish and a Romanian bank to attract international private sector capital into the region’s infrastructure projects.

However, so far the initiative remains politically divided and has only slowly managed to attract funding for its projects.

In Tallinn, nine members and fund manager Amber Infrastructure Group pledged a total investment of €923 million, while Poland announced a €250 million increase in its investment into the fund.

Estonia’s president and summit host, Kersti Kaljulaid, defined the meeting as a “summit of consolidation” that “underscored the political and financial commitment” of its members.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski commented before the summit that “after years as an overwhelmingly political project, the initiative will now become an economic project”.

At the same time, some of the priority projects for the Three Seas Initiative coincide with those that enjoy 50 to 75% funding from the European Commission.

Kaljulaid had in previous weeks repeatedly stressed the project does not compete with the EU but is rather aimed at closing the gap between the region and its Western European counterparts.

“It must grow fast, we need to catch up to Western Europe,” Kaljulaid told Estonian broadcaster ERR.

“At the same time, we have also not used all the available potential for communication in the region’s economy – figuratively speaking, all the good routes go from East to West, but we have not connected going from North to South,” she added.

Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager also endorsed the project, saying it is “truly cross-border, it has the same values that the entire Union promotes – cohesion and convergence, and infrastructure is key to those two objectives.”

Strong US interest in the initiative

However, Washington, the initiative’s biggest supporter, has been keen on investing in the region, with a close eye on Russia and the surge in Chinese investment in the neighbouring Western Balkans.

In October, the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously passed a motion for a resolution supporting the Three Seas Initiative.

The resolution contains plans to increase energy security and connectivity in the region’s infrastructure and contains a condemnation of Russia’s efforts “to use energy as a weapon to put pressure on or undermine freedom and democracy in Europe.”

At the Tallinn summit, the US delegation announced an investment of $300 million through the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) into the Three Seas Fund, to be finalised in December.

At the same time, US Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach announced a US pledge of contributing 30% of the 12 Three Seas nations’ contributions to the scheme combined, up to a maximum of €1 billion.

“The more each country invests, the more we invest,” Krach said.

During recent visits to the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria and Poland, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo summed up Washington’s aims: “We have the opportunity to keep the countries of Europe strong, free and tied to the US, just as my country wants”.

Pompeo’s main task then was to rally support in Europe for an anti-China push, advising European countries not to use technology supplied by the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei in 5G networks and asking them to join America’s “5G Clean Network Security” plan.

Polish-American nuclear cooperation

During the summit, a 30-year intergovernmental agreement between Washington and Warsaw was signed on future cooperation in the development of the Polish civil nuclear energy program.

“Nuclear energy will ensure clean and reliable electricity supplies to the inhabitants of Poland and will be part of the diversification of the energy mix,” US Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said.

Brouillette stressed that nuclear power has a central role in Poland’s 20-year energy strategy, and the US would be keen to expand the already existing energy collaboration to include nuclear power.

According to the agreement, both sides will within 18 months jointly prepare a report containing the results of preparatory works by leading American companies in the civil nuclear energy sector and a proposal for the program financing structure.

It also will be the final offer to build a nuclear power plant in Poland.

Commenting on the agreement to strengthen the strategic partnership of the two countries, US Ambassador in Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, said:

“This agreement marks several major milestones; not only does it strengthen Polish-American relations, but it’s an announcement to the rest of the world that America is back in the nuclear business, thanks to cutting-edge US technology”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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