Three Seas Initiative
Poland’s Perspective on the Three-Seas-Initiative
For obvious reasons, the founding state of the initiative – Poland – is a dedicated supporter of the Three-Seas-Initiative. Together with Croatia, Poland initiated the Central and Eastern European project back in 2015. After a report by the American think tank Atlantic Council brought the lack of infrastructure along the European North-South axis to Poland’s and Croatia’s attention, the two countries acknowledged the necessity to invest in such regional infrastructure, in order to boost economic development. While the primary focus of the initiative is placed on economy, Poland would actually prefer to incorporate security and geopolitical aspects, too. Furthermore, Poland would favor a more formal makeup of the initiative, which currently resembles a forum rather than an international governmental organization. In Polish eyes, the Three-Seas-Initiative would allow Central and Eastern European countries to strengthen their ties with each other and the US, which is an important ally when it comes to security vis-à-vis Russia.
The Polish Vision for the Initiative
When the US-American think tank Atlantic Council published its report “Completing Europe”, it drew the attention of the two presidents – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia and Andrzej Duda of Poland – to the disparity in development in Europe. What particularly stands out is the lack of infrastructure along Europe’s North-South axis, in contrast to East-West infrastructure, which is quite sophisticated. This lack of infrastructure is considered a major hindrance to economic growth, which is why the Polish and Croatian presidents launched an initiative that would focus primarily on collective infrastructure investments in Central and Eastern Europe.
It has to be mentioned that Poland’s initial vision for the Three-Seas-Initiative was a political organization rather than a mere economic forum. The country expected a united political bloc of Central and Eastern European states to serve as a promising deterrence against Russian aggression while simultaneously fostering economic growth and European cohesion. In light of recurrent threats posed by Russia, Poland saw the need for additional cooperation among Central and Eastern European countries, as well as the necessity of collective investments in the region’s infrastructure. Those states located in Russia’s close vicinity find themselves too often victims of Russian blackmailing, as they are still dependent on Russian gas. By strengthening transatlantic ties, promoting tighter cooperation in the region – also militarily – and encouraging energy diversification by investing in energy infrastructure, Poland expected the initiative to boost regional security. While the initiative does in fact pursue these objectives, Poland wished that military cooperation was also formally part of the Three-Seas-Initiative. However, Polish efforts to push the initiative to also incorporate security and geopolitical aspects were blocked by the initiative’s fellow member states. Consequently, the initiative started off as an economic project with a political agenda which is not openly stated in its manifesto (Soroka & Stepniewski, 2019).
Rival or Friend of the EU?
The leading role that Poland takes in the initiative has not always been well received by fellow member states. Some states, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were reminded of Poland’s past interwar attempt to establish the so-called Intermarium initiative. While that project would have fostered cooperation among Central and Eastern European countries, it would also have consolidated Poland’s power over the region. Deterred by its hegemonic tendencies, European countries refused to support the Intermarium project. As the Three-Seas-Initiative covers the same geographic area and was also launched by Poland, some member states were reluctant to join. They were worried about the intentions of Poland behind the Three-Seas-Initiative (Grgić, 2021).
These concerns by some countries were aggravated by the fact that Poland is currently in conflict with the EU over the state of its national rule of law. Some countries feared that the initiative would amplify the East-West division in Europe or that it would be instrumentalized by Poland in its dispute with the EU (Górka, 2018). However, Poland repeatedly reaffirmed its fellow members and the EU that the Three-Seas-Initiative operated in conformity with the European Union. On several occasions, the Polish government stated that the initiative strives for European unity and cohesion. By improving Central and Eastern European infrastructure for economic growth, Europe’s disparities in economic development could be mitigated, which would in turn strengthen ties with the EU and hence deepen EU integration. In other words, the Three-Seas-Initiative is complementary to the EU and other regional formats, according to official statements by the Polish government.
However, concerns about the initiative’s conformity with the EU were only completely allayed when Germany and the EU attended the Three-Seas-Initiative’s summit in Bucharest in 2018. US representatives were also present at the summit. For Poland, cooperation between the initiative and the US is of utmost importance. Poland hopes that US involvement in the initiative will not only boost Polish economic development but also raise its security vis-à-vis Russia. It intends to use the initiative to attract American interest in the region and consequently enhance its strategic partnership with the US economically, politically but also militarily (Górka, 2018).
Interview with Wojciech Przybylski
As a founding state of the Three-Seas-Initiative, has Poland’s role and position in the region changed and if so, in what way?
Af first, Poland's role and position has been improving over the last decade with a peak around the launch of the 3SI and the transatlantic partnership. However, in the last couple of years, it's been deteriorating. First, it has been improving along with the growing economic potential of the country and significant political ambitions striving for coordinating regional policy along with partners in the EU. This enabled to establish 3SI and other regional formats, which were attractive for different partners. But at the same time, Poland has been opening up so many new diplomatic conflicts recently that it has limited its potential on the regional level. Partners in the region are counting on the ability to achieve pragmatic goals within the EU and Poland's EU policy is hardly efficient in recent years.
Initially, some stakeholders voiced misgivings that the initiative would be a rival to the EU and instrumentalized by Poland in the country’s current conflict with the EU. How does the Three-Seas-Initiative affect Poland’s relationship with the EU and Germany in particular?
Some segment of the nationalist camp (internationally) might believe that 3SI is a rival to Germany's role in Europe, especially when it comes to transatlantic relations. I don't know anyone who knew anything about 3SI and thought it would be a rival to the EU - because 3SI is designed to increase the influence of the region in the EU and through EU-related strategies and funding.
Poland's relationship with Germany is becoming stronger due to the 3SI - we have seen the German president warmly welcomed at the 3SI summit and Germany signing NS2 declaration with the US where it pledged to support 3SI projects.
Relationship to the EU is becoming better as well, namely due to a better coordination of regional policy planning and investment in line with the EU funds. So far, the EU's MFF has been designed for individual nation-states with hardly any deepening of regional EU integration (transnational/cross-border) dimension.
In your opinion, what are the core national objectives that Poland pursues with the Three-Seas-Initiative?
From my point of view, one of the objectives is increasing the diversification of energy supply and mitigating the negative security and economic effects of NS2 for the region, where Poland has vested security and economic interests. Second, it is about economic diplomacy - the potential of the region on the global scale (adding up the numbers). Another objective is also maximising the success rate of EU funds invested in the N-S infrastructure projects. Another Poland’s objective within the 3SI is also building up and maintaining good transatlantic relations with business and governmental sector, better coordination of the regional dimension of its foreign policy and insulating against security risks by increasing logistical mobility in the NATO's Eastern Flank.
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.
Grgić, G. (2021). The changing dynamics of regionalism in Central and Eastern Europe: The case of the Three Seas Initiative. Geopolitics, 1-23.
Soroka, G., & Stepniewski, T. (2019). The Three Seas Initiative: Geopolitical determinants and Polish interests. Yearbook of the Institute of East-Central Europe, 17(3), 15-29.
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.
Wojciech Przybylski is the editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight, the main platform of analysis on Central Europe by Res Publica Foundation in Poland. He is currently also a Europe’s Futures Fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna.