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 is less concerned that the initiative might get into rivalry with 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 the promotion of regional infrastructure, especially at the digital level, since Estonia expects it to increase economic growth. However, in addition to the economic factors, security considerations play at least as important role for Estonia. Estonia would like to use the Three-Seas-Initiative to further protect itself from the perceived danger posed by Russia.
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 clearer and a more institutionalized structure for the initiative, which the Baltic country enthusiastically supports. The initiative is perceived as having great potential with regard to the economy, political cooperation and security policy. Consequently, Estonia has been extremely committed since the beginning and insists on the development of the institutional structure of the initiative.
Connected to the Tallinn Summit, Estonia has already implemented some specific projects, such as website and logo creation for the Three-Seas-Initiative. With its pragmatic and determined approach, Estonia aims to translate the goals of the initiative into tangible actions and projects. In the future, Estonia would also like to establish a permanent secretariat of the initiative and publish annual reports on the progress of the initiative's projects. In addition to the institutionalization, the Baltic country also places emphasis on digitalization. Estonia considers the promotion of digital infrastructure to be at least as crucial as the development of energy and transport infrastructure in the region (Legucka & Orzelska-Stączek, 2020).
In order to be able to implement projects in these individual 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. With this in mind, Estonia's former President Kersti Kaljulaid appealed to the country's national companies at the Tallinn Summit to use this fund wisely for strategical investments in infrastructure. Indeed, the former Estonian president is a big supporter of the Three-Seas-Initiative and she 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. It has been made clear in Estonia that they will only support the Three-Seas-Initiative if it is compliant with the EU norms and standards. For the Baltic country, the European Union is of great importance, as it 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 generally oriented towards Western Europe and the US. The country spends considerable amount of energy on good relations with the West. The Three-Seas-Initiative could be a good opportunity to strengthen such relations. Likewise, the initiative is expected to deepen the partnership 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 both economic and security policy progress. In principle, Estonia does not appear to be averse to Germany's potential future membership in the initiative (Legucka & Orzelska-Stączek, 2020).
However, since the US is also a strategically extremely valuable partner, Estonia fears the scenario in which the interests of the US and Germany are opposed. If such a case occurs 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. Therefore, not only the economy, infrastructure and digitalization play a role in the Three-Seas-Initiative, but also the security concerns. The initiative is intended to provide more protection from 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.