Three Seas Initiative
Member States of the Three Seas Initiative in Comparison

Drawing a Conclusion
Three seas initative
© DM

After a thorough analysis of each member state of the Three Seas Initiative, it became clear that their individual engagement in the initiative is not of equal depth and dedication. States such as Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria and Poland are convinced of the added value that the initiative provides, whereas states such as the Czech Republic and Hungary remain rather hesitant to actively participate in the initiative. Hungary is particularly opposed to the transformation of the initiative into a formal organizational structure, while the Czech Republic’s hesitance stems primarily from its mistrust for Poland’s leading role in the project – such concerns about Poland’s dominant role have also been voiced by multiple other members, for example Slovakia. Their fear is that Poland might utilize the initiative for its anti-EU agenda and hence stir the initiative and its members away from the European Union.

In addition to those different levels of commitment and participation in the initiative, we can observe diverging opinions of the raison d’être of the initiative. One can distinguish between those member states that cherish the idea of a purely economic forum and those that prefer security and political considerations to play more dominant roles in the initiative. The latter is particularly strongly advocated by the Baltic states. However, disagreement among members about the core nature and objectives of the initiative might paralyze the European project in the future.

A topic that appears to receive less attention by member states is China’s relationship with the initiative, even though China’s great interest and ambitions in the region are hot topics in public debate. The Three Seas Initiative could either serve as a counterweight against Chinese investments and its subsequent influence or as a favorable tool for China by complementing its Belt and Road Initiative. The involvement of other major actors in the initiative, namely the EU and the US, determines which one of these two scenarios will eventually happen.

In fact, the US has shown growing interest in the initiative – so has the European Union. Both have expressed their intentions to support the initiative’s infrastructure and economic development projects. Doing so the EU aims (a) to counter Chinese influence in the region, (b) to push for equal economic development in Europe, (c) to strengthen the resilience of the region against Russia, (d) to ensure complementarity with EU principles in light of Poland’s dominant role in the initiative. The interest of the US in the initiative stems primarily from its desire to preserve its strong position on the European continent. For the US, the Three Seas Initiative represents a useful tool to counter China’s influence and strengthen the resilience of the region vis-à-vis Russia.

In context of the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, security considerations are very likely to play a much more central role in the future of the initiative. The importance ascribed to the initiative might even experience a boost. Energy infrastructure development – a crucial pillar of the initiative – will certainly receive even more attention and resources in the initiative, as it advances the region’s independence from Russian gas. Even accelerated economic growth and strengthened cooperation in the region thanks to the Three Seas Initiative could already deter Russian aggression. This potential of the initiative has been recognized by Germany which not only announced to support regional projects in the energy sector via the EU budget, but also considers financially supporting the Three Seas Initiative for regional energy security. Consequently, Germany will probably be more actively engaged in the future of the initiative – a development that would be welcomed by the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

However, for the Three Seas Initiative to achieve goals such as boosting economic growth, infrastructure and energy security, it has to overcome certain challenges, one being its bumpy path with the European Union. Member states of the Three Seas Initiative have to ensure that the initiative follows the principles of the European Union and acts in absolute accordance and complementarity to it; a rivalry erupting between the initiative and the EU would threaten the Three Seas Initiative’s very existence and cohesion in Europe. Slovenia, among other member states, repeatedly emphasized the paramount importance of an EU-complementary initiative.

Another challenge is internal disagreement regarding the structure of the initiative, its geopolitical and security objectives, and its position vis-à-vis Russia. Strictly anti-Russian sentiments on the one side and Russia-friendly sentiments on the other clash in the Three Seas Initiative. Especially Hungary’s Russia-friendly politics impede the struggle for a common position on the aggressor.

Lastly, the success of the initiative depends on the most active members’ ability – with the Baltic states leading the way – to convince and mobilize the initiative’s hesitant and passive members. Without full support and active participation of all its members, the initiative will most probably fall short of its purpose and objectives.

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.