Three Seas Initiative
Estonia's Perspective on the Three-Seas-Initiative
Since the inception of the initiative, Estonia has been an extremely loyal and active member. Compared to some other member states, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Estonia finds it unlikely that the initiative might become a rival to the EU. On the contrary, the country believes that the project can be beneficial to the EU. Estonia sees enormous potential in the initiative and is greatly involved in developing the institutional structure of this young European project. The Baltic country is very interested in promoting regional infrastructure, especially at the digital level, since Estonia expects this to boost economic growth. However, security considerations play at least an equally important role for Estonia. Estonia would like to use the Three-Seas-Initiative as a shield against potential Russian aggression.
A desire for digitalization and clear structures
In 2020, the Estonian capital Tallinn had the honor of hosting the annual summit of the Three-Seas-Initiative. As a particularly active member, Estonia once again emphasized its desire for a more coherent and more institutionalized structure for the initiative. Estonia believes in the initiative’s great potential for its economy, political cooperation and security policy. Consequently, Estonia has been very committed since the beginning and insists on the development of an institutional structure.
In connection to the Tallinn Summit, Estonia has already implemented some specific projects, such as the creation of a website and logo for the Three-Seas-Initiative. With its pragmatic approach, Estonia aims to translate the objectives of the initiative into tangible actions and projects. In the future, Estonia would also like to establish a permanent secretariat and publish annual reports on the progress of the initiative's projects. In addition to institutionalization, the Baltic country also pushes for improvements in digitalization. Estonia considers the promotion of digital infrastructure and the development of energy and transport infrastructure in the region equally important (Legucka & Orzelska-Stączek, 2020).
In order to implement concrete projects in these different areas, the Investment Fund of the Three-Seas-Initiative was launched – a development that Estonia greatly welcomed. It regards the Fund as a substantial part of the initiative. Estonia's former President Kersti Kaljulaid appealed to the country's national companies at the Tallinn Summit to use this fund wisely for strategic investments in infrastructure. Indeed, the former Estonian president is a staunch supporter of the Three-Seas-Initiative and has helped consolidate Estonia's leading role in the initiative in the Baltic region.
However, Estonia would not show this kind of commitment if the project was at odds with the EU. Estonia has made clear that it would only support the Three-Seas-Initiative if it was compliant with EU norms and standards. For the Baltic country, the European Union is of great importance, as is having good relations with Germany and the US. This orientation toward the West is typical for Estonia.
Looking West – EU, Germany and the US
Estonia's foreign policy is primarily oriented towards Western Europe and the US. The country invests a lot of energy in good relations with the West. However, Estonia's relations with the Eastern bloc of Europe are comparably weak. The Three-Seas-Initiative could be a good opportunity to strengthen such relations. The Three-Seas-Initiative could be a good opportunity to strengthen such relations. Likewise, the initiative is expected to deepen partnerships with Germany and the United States. Estonia would like to see the two states increasingly involved in the initiative, hoping that this will lead to progress in economic and security policy. Estonia does not even appear to oppose the potential admission of Germany as a member of the initiative (Legucka & Orzelska-Stączek, 2020).
However, since the US is a strategically valuable partner, too, Estonia fears the scenario in which the interests of the US and Germany could be opposed. If such a case occurred in the future, one would probably have to choose sides. However, Estonia has good relations with both countries and wants to avoid such a delicate situation at all costs. For this reason, it would be particularly important to integrate both states into the Three-Seas-Initiative. In this context, the US serves primarily as a protection against Russian aggression. This reaffirms: not only economy, infrastructure and digitalization play a role in the Three-Seas-Initiative, but also security concerns. The initiative is intended to provide more protection against Russia by strengthening relations with the EU, Germany and the US, promoting independence from Russian energy, and boosting economic growth (Górka, 2018).
Interview with Kaisa Hanna Parel
In addition to being part of the Three-Seas-Initiative, Estonia is also a member of the Chinese initiative 17+1. How will the Three-Seas-Initiative potentially affect Estonia’s relationship with China?
The Three Seas Initiative is aimed at developing connectivity in the Central and Eastern European region in line with the principles of free market economy, democratic values and transparency. The Three Seas vision is to leverage the power of the private investment for improved connectivity and quality infrastructure while adhering to widely agreed upon environmental and social standards. Therefore, the Three Seas Initiative counterbalances the influence of malign actors in the region.
In Estonia, there does not seem to be domestic consensus on the initiative; some stakeholders oppose the former President’s strong support for the Three-Seas-Initiative. What aspects of the initiative are criticized the strongest and why?
The Three Seas Initiative has a strong and united political support in Estonia. The Government supported the Foreign Ministry’s proposals for continued support and activities in March 2021, the President of the Estonian Parliament organized the first 3SI Parliamentary Forum in June 2021, while the Tallinn Digital Summit, which was hosted by the Prime Minister Kallas in September 2021, which highlighted 3SI as an example of Trusted Connectivity. Therefore, I would not say that the Initiative is widely criticized, the problem is rather that it is still relatively unknown outside political circles.
While Estonia wishes to give the Three-Seas-Initiative more formal structure, for example by establishing a permanent secretary, other members, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, prefer an informal initiative. In your opinion, what will the future of the initiative look like?
Estonia supports the creation of a permanent secretariat for the Three Seas Initiative, in order to better coordinate activities and ensure continuity. However, it would be a rather small technical body, the initiative should still stay informal and led by annual presidential summits. We also support increased cooperation on other levels, especially governmental and parliamentary, which is essential for practical results and making the Three Seas vision a reality.
Górka, M. (2018). The Three Seas Initiative as a political challenge for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Politics in Central Europe, 14(3), 55-73.
Legucka, A., & Orzelska-Stączek, A. (2020). Estonia’s vision of the Three Seas Initiative: Interview with the ambassador of Estonia to Poland H. E. Martin Roger. Sprawy Międzynarodowe, 73(2), 12-21.
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.
Kaisa Hanna Parel is the desk officer for the Three Seas Initiative at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. She has been working on the topic since 2020, including during the preparations for the Three Seas Tallinn Summit. She has held different positions at the Ministry since 2018, including in the UN Security Council campaign task force, Communications Department and Estonian Embassy in London. She has a History degree from King’s College London.