Three Seas Initiative
Slovakia's Perspective on The Three-Seas-Initiative
Due to its geographic location, Slovakia’s membership in the Three-Seas-Initiative initiated by Poland and Croatia is of the utmost importance. However, Slovakia's perspective on the initiative is not always clear-cut, as in the case of the Czech Republic. It is marked by contradictions. While Slovakia identifies some potential in the Three-Seas-Initiative and would highly approve of the development of regional communication and infrastructure, the country is skeptical about the political undertone of the project – it rejects supporting an organization which could be in rivalry with the EU. Furthermore, there are doubts about the actual success of the initiative.
Purely Economic Initiative Approved
Together with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Slovakia is part of the Visegrád Group, which Slovakia considers to be of great importance for regional cooperation. Although the country principally identifies the Three-Seas-Initiative as an opportunity to further strengthen cohesion and cooperation among the countries, this initiative is intended to function only as a supplement to the Visegrád Group and the EU. The young initiative should primarily serve the development of regional infrastructure and communication. Slovakia wants to prevent the initiative from becoming an organization with a political character, and it is strictly opposed to the creation of a formal structure within the initiative (Dostál et al., 2021).
This resistance can be explained by Slovakia's skepticism towards the political aspirations of the initiative. On this point, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are in agreement although Slovakia has better relations with Poland and Poland's President Andrzej Duda. The central role that the populist and EU-critical Polish government plays in the initiative raises concerns in Slovakia that the Three-Seas-Initiative may not be complementary to the EU. As Poland's influence in the initiative has increased, these concerns have grown stronger. Because of these doubts about the project's EU-conformity, Slovakia wants to prevent the initiative from expanding into a political organization. In Slovakian eyes, the Visegrád Group and especially the EU have priority (Dostál et al., 2021; Górka, 2018).
Nonetheless, Slovakia would like to support the Three-Seas-Initiative because the country recognizes the need to advance infrastructure, communication and economic development in Central and Eastern Europe. Since the project could prove useful in this challenge, Slovakia eventually decided to support the initiative. If the Three-Seas-Initiative maintained its purely economic character, Slovakia will not see any conflict with the EU and the values of the European Union; on the contrary, the project could actually contribute to the improvement of relations within the EU, thus strengthening the Union. However, in order to achieve this goal, politicization of the initiative must be avoided. Should a conflict arise between the initiative and the EU, Slovak support for the initiative will be withdrawn (Dostál et al., 2021).
The Role of the US and Germany
Slovakia's perspective on the Three-Seas-Initiative may improve in the future, as US and German interest in the project has grown. Slovakia hopes that increased cooperation between the two countries and the initiative will provide the project with a greater chance of success. In addition, since Slovakia is particularly exposed to Ukraine-Russia tensions, it would like to substantially strengthen its own relations with the two mentioned Western powers (Górka, 2018). Having good relations with both countries and the EU is of great importance to Slovakia, with special priority given to its relationship with the EU and Germany. Hence, Germany's membership in the initiative would be welcomed (Dostál et al., 2021).
Interview with Tomáš Strážay
While the Czech Republic did not feel the need for another regional organization, Slovakia generally welcomed the establishment of a new regional initiative. How do you explain these different perceptions?
Frankly speaking, I do not think that there is a big difference between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Neither the Czech Republic nor Slovakia took an active part in the establishment of the Three-Seas-Initiative – they rather followed the crowd. In this regard, it is true that in Slovakia, we could not hear open statements of any political leader who would condemn the initiative or who would say that this initiative is going to destroy the existing regional cooperations. On the contrary, the leaders including the previous president Andrej Kiska just acknowledged that the existence of the new regional initiative could actually contribute to the solution of some of the problems in the region, especially in the field of infrastructure, energy security and also digitalization, which are the three main pillars of the Three-Seas-Initiative. But there was no warm welcome of the Three-Seas-Initiative in Slovakia. Keeping this in mind, I would rather say that the positions of the Czech Republic and Slovakia are rather similar. The truth is that the former president Kiska actually took an active part in the Three-Seas-Initiative summit. One of the reasons for this is also a personal relationship between him and Duda, the president of Poland, which was considered as a close friendship, because both come from the same region – the Tatras region. This could also contribute to the image that Andrej Kiska and Slovakia are so to say more supportive of the Three-Seas-Initiative than President Zeman and the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, I repeat, I would rather say that the positions of the two countries have been similar since the very beginning of the establishment of the Three-Seas-Initiative.
In comparison with the Czech Republic, Slovakia appears to be less skeptical of Poland and the Polish political intentions. What role does the Three-Seas-Initiative play in the Slovak-Polish relationship? Does the initiative have an impact on the relations between these two states?
Of course, Poland would appreciate if Slovakia took a more active role in the initiative – also because of the geographic reasons. Slovakia is crucial in the infrastructure and energy projects, because it lies in the middle of the region and exactly between Poland and Hungary. Those countries are quite supportive of the initiative, especially Poland, which is considered to be the most enthusiastic country in this regard. Hence, they would definitely appreciate a more active involvement of Slovakia. However, the reality is different. I think there is a constant attempt of different Polish leaders to involve Slovakia and to convince Slovakia that the Three-Seas-Initiative is a very promising project that could contribute to the future of the region, to its cohesion and prosperity and so on. But different actors on the Slovak side are not that enthusiastic and not that convinced about it. I would say that the hesitation about whether or not to contribute to the Three-Seas-Initiative Fund is actually also an indicator of the Slovak attitude. I would say that the initiative is present in the Slovak-Polish relationship but it is not the most influential factor that impacts bilateral relations between those two countries. This is mainly because – besides the Three-Seas-Initiative – there is the Visegrad Group which has a much longer tradition and also other topical issues, especially security, which is important as Slovakia and Poland are so close to each other. In sum, I would not say that the attitude or the position on the Three-Seas-Initiative undermines the bilateral relations to a big extent.
On several occasions, Slovakia made clear that it would only support the initiative as long as it did not become a “political bloc”. In your opinion, how likely is it that the Three-Seas-Initiative will be transformed into a formal political organization rather than an economic forum?
Since the very beginning, different Slovak representatives have actually been saying that they see the Three-Seas-Initiative as a sectoral initiative which would focus on a deeper cooperation within particular sectors, such as energy, transport & infrastructure (those being the three main pillars of the initiative), and digitalization. This has been the view since the very beginning. Any attempt to actually transform the Three-Seas-Initiative into a political bloc has been condemned. As you can see, the position of Slovakia and the Czech Republic are again very similar. I think that Poland or at least some of the Polish representatives seem to have given up this attempt to transform the initiative into this bloc. They rather opt for a more moderate rhetoric which also focuses on the countries not so convinced about the benefits of the initiative. I rather expect focus on those sectoral policies, on pragmatic solutions that also concern the Three-Seas-Initiative investment fund, and very concrete projects that might be supported by this fund. From my personal perspective, the weight of the Three-Seas-Initiative may increase after the current budgetary period of the European Union is over. For now, Central European countries are still the net beneficiaries from EU funds. But this is likely to change in the years to come: and when it comes, the Three-Seas-Initiative fund and more intensive cooperation regarding acquiring different fundings might play a bigger role. This applies for countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well, since the funds are needed but the EU will no longer be such a generous donor.
Dostál, V., Strážay, T., & Végh, Z. (2021). The perspective of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia on the Three Seas Initiative. Retrieved from: https://www.amo.cz/en/the-perspective-of-the-czech-republic-hungary-and-slovakia-on-the-three-seas-initiative/
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.
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.
Tomáš Strážay has been working as the Director of the Research Center of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (RC SFPA) since September 2019. Tomáš is a leading expert in the projects focusing on regional cooperation in Central Europe and EU enlargement and one of the founders of the V4 Think-Tank Platform Think Visegrad.