Three Seas Initiative
Austria’s Perspective on the Three-Seas-Initiative

Three seas initiative Austria
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Even though Austria’s economic development and infrastructure are relatively more advanced compared to the other member states of the Three-Seas-Initiative, the country expects to profit from participating in the initiative. Austria believes that the initiative is of great value for infrastructure and subsequent economic growth in Central and Eastern Europe. However, it also emphasizes that any sort of duplication of EU competencies, projects and structures must be avoided at all costs – the Three-Seas-Initiative is supposed to function solely as a supplement to the European Union. Within the EU, Austria saw its role as a bridge builder between Western and Eastern member states. The Three-Seas-Initiative offers Austria a great opportunity to consolidate that position, but the country’s good relations to Russia could become an obstacle in this regard. In contrast to most other member states of the initiative, Austria maintains good relations with Russia – their energy partnership is particularly tight.

European Union first – Three-Seas-Initiative second

While Austria is not a member of the NATO, it is part of the Three-Seas-Initiative and the European Union, the latter of which it values greatly. In the eyes of Austria, the EU is the overarching institution in Europe, and the Three-Seas-Initiative has to operate within that EU framework. Indeed, Austria has expressed its interest and support for the Three-Seas-Initiative but it also advocates that the European Union takes on a leading role in the initiative. The core task of the Three-Seas-Initiative should be the implementation of existing EU plans and projects concerned with infrastructure, digitalization and energy. In sum, Austria regards the initiative as a useful addition to the European Union which can help mitigate the economic discrepancies within Europe.

Indeed, Austria believes in the Three-Seas-Initiative’s relevance and potential to improve the economic standing of its member states. By investing in better regional connectivity and infrastructure, Austria expects members to profit economically but also politically. An increase in regional cooperation fosters European cohesion and will only strengthen the EU in the long run. While Austria has such a primarily positive perspective on the initiative, it shows some reluctance when it comes to actual contributing. Austrian contributions to the Three-Seas-Initiative are still lagging behind. This attitude of Austria mirrors the fact that it does not regard the initiative as fully independent but rather as a subordinate supplement to the EU.

In both institutions, the EU and the Three-Seas-Initiative, Austria eagerly takes on the  role of a bridgebuilder connecting the Western part of Europe to the former Soviet bloc. However, Austria does not play the role of a bridgebuilder out of altruism. Due to its geographic location in the center of the EU, Austria itself profits economically from an increase in trade and economic partnerships between the West and the East of Europe. Thus, the Three-Seas-Initiative, which aspires to improve the conditions for economic growth and trade in Europe, is happily welcomed by Austria.

Russian friendship

However, Austria’s aspiration to once again become a bridgebuilder is endangered by the fact that the country maintains some relatively good relations to Russia. In contrast to most other member states of the Three-Seas-Initiative, except for Hungary, Austria is on good terms with Russia and an eager customer of Russian gas. As a consequence, the diversification of energy sources and the resulting independence from Russia are of less importance for Austria – at least politically. From an economic perspective, Austria considers the diversification of energy sources and routes very useful. Therefore, it happily supports the BRUA-project, which, once completed, is a pipeline that will connect Rumania and Austria. The Austrian President Van der Bellen proposed that the Three-Seas-Initiative could play an important role in that energy infrastructure project. However, Austria distances itself from the Three-Seas-Initiative’s anti-Russian mindset and the initiative’s underlying objective to achieve independence from Russian gas (Benko & Tchakarova, 2021). Time will tell whether this difference in attitudes towards Russia will actually drive a wedge between Austria and its fellow states.

Interview with Dr. Thomas Jandl

In your opinion, how important is the membership of Austria for the Three-Seas-Initiative?

Austria’s membership is useful for the initiative because of its strategic location, which supports the initiative’s idea of connectivity.

The other question is, how important is the Initiative for Austria? Apparently not very much. We tend to participate through our ambassadors, while other countries send higher-level members of their government. Even in the MoFA’s Annual Report (Außenpolitischer Jahresbericht), the Initiative is mentioned. Since the Initiative is a lose cooperation, none of this constitute great trouble. If the Initiative ever emerges with projects that require more direct multi-party cooperation, Austria will have to show more interest and invest some resources into it.

It appears that security considerations play a minor role in Austria’s decision to join the Three-Seas-Initiative. Setting economic benefits aside – what does Austria gain from its membership in the initiative politically?

I am not sure which security considerations each member has at this point. There are no clear obligations for members, hence the Initiative remains a fluid, project-based undertaking with project participation based on immediate interest in a given project.

This being said, its formation has security goals, of course. In longer view, the Initiative could (and is probably designed to) emerge as a counterpart to the Belt and Road Initiative. Insofar, Austria places security interests above all else, since creating a counterweight to Chinese influence in Europe is only secondarily economic, given the close proximity between economics and political pressure in Chinese thinking.

Most member states push for more cooperation between the Three-Seas-Initiative and the US. What is the Austrian perspective on the increased US involvement in the initiative?

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg seems to be an Atlanticist, and thus probably in favor of associating the Initiative with Washington. I am not privy to the internal thinking of the ministry on this issue. I am, however, afraid that there is very little grand strategic thinking in the Chancellery. Unfortunately, at present that is where policy is made – with an almost exclusive view on domestic policy and polling. I could imagine that Austria’s position on allying the Initiative closer to the United States will depend on public opinion with regards to the EU-US alliance, rather than on a general strategic and systemic rivalry policy considerations. This being said, since the Initiative lacks a central, formalized decision-making process, I could imagine that bringing the United States into individual projects is not a question of Austria’s position. It rather can be done in a decentralized fashion, for example with the aid of more Atlanticist members like Poland or the Baltics.


Benko, L., & Tchakarova, V. (2021). The Three Seas Initiative as a geopolitical approach and  Austria's role. AIES Fokus, 1-4. Retrieved from

About the author

Valerie Kornis completed an internship at the Central Europe and Baltic States Project Office. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University in The Netherlands and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po in Paris.

Thomas Jandl is a consultant for foreign policy, national defense and development cooperation at the Austrian opposition party New Austria (NEOS). Previously, he was an Assistant Professor for International Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C.

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