Three Seas Strengthens Central European Cohesion
9 July, 2017

Ukraine absolutely should be a priority for the Three Seas Initiative, says Katarzyna Pisarska, Founder and Director of the Polish Academy of Democracy in Warsaw. The Three Seas Initiative Summit took place on July 6, 2017, including representatives from its 12 member countries. Hromadske analyzes the potential impact of the initiative on energy, economic competitiveness, and incorporating non-EU countries in the region.

The Three Seas initiative is a joint Polish-Croatian project launched in 2016. It aims to strengthen trade, infrastructure, energy and political cooperation among the countries bordering the Adriatic, the Baltic, and the Black Seas. It includes 12 EU countries, the majority of which are heavily reliant on Russian gas.

While the Three Seas Initiative exists only within the EU framework, it can benefit other countries in the region as well, including Ukraine. When the price of alternative energy becomes more on par with gas, it will be give European governments for room to negotiate with Russia and Gazprom, says Katarzyna Pisarska.

Furthermore, with the new FTA agreement and association agreement with Ukraine, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid stated that it is the intention of the initiative to keep the eastern partnership countries close economically.

Hromadske discusses the Three Seas Initiative with Katarzyna Pisarska, Founder and Director of the Polish Academy of Democracy in Warsaw.

There was the Three Seas Initiative Summit, which involved 12 countries bordering the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. Why do we have this in particular? We listen to the Bulgarian, Estonian and Croatian presidents, so this initiative is not really about the EU, and they say that it’s not about having another line. How do you see this?

Katarzyna Pisarska: First of all, let me be very clear, there will be no Three Seas Initiatives outside the EU framework, both for political and practical reasons. The majority, if not all, of the Three Seas participants see themselves as deeply embedded in the EU and do not see this initiative as an alternative to any other countries within the European Union. Second, there is an economical factor. The Three Seas Initiative does not have any special funds, or any special mechanisms that would enhance its main priority, mainly strengthening infrastructural and transportations links between the countries, the north-south axis. All this money and all these mechanisms are within the European Union. It is only a framework–and this is how it should be seen–of strengthening the process of bigger cohesion within Central European countries, but this cohesion will be funded mainly by EU money, or, by a number of different stakeholders coming not only from the Three Seas, but also from the entire European Union. I don’t think there would be any agreement and definitely, any support for the initiative if it were to be presented by our president as a form of alternative to, let’s say, Western Europe. Today it has become a very practical, economic and digital-focused initiative, and I think that, of course President Trump’s visit has given it a bigger visibility, but it’s only one of many formats that these countries cooperate in.

What about energy in particular? Because we know that these countries aren’t really in favour of the Nord Stream, and as well, some of them are dependent on or used to be dependent on Russian gas.

Katarzyna Pisarska: There has been a big effort from the European Commission of the European Union to create interconnectors, also here in Central Europe, between different countries for us to be able to trade and share energy resources.There are plans that are put under the Strategy 2020 by the European Commission, and there will be both funds, and a political push, to do this. The Three Seas Initiative builds on these processes, they are happening anyhow, they would be happening anyhow, but I think it is a way of politically strengthening these infrastructure and transportation products and bringing more coordination to the table between these countries. Now regarding gas, the market is changing. We know today, that in five years, the European energy market will be completely different than is today. LNG is one of the possible resources that does not necessarily more expensive than Russian gas, but even if it’s close to the price of the Russian gas, that is already a very strong negotiation argument when we discuss the prices of gas for us with Gazprom, and that also realistically could lower our prices, but also our gas dependence because we can also find other resources, even if they are a bit more expensive.

Of course, because there are way more countries on the Black Sea not in the Three Seas Initiative, Ukraine is a country on the Black Sea. We know that Ukraine had, to some extent, without going into detail on how the diplomacy worked, some ideas on how it could join or be involved. There are more countries in the Balkans that aren’t members of the EU. What is the answer to this? Because it is still not very clear.

Katarzyna Pisarska: Absolutely. I think that if the Three Seas continues to be a strong format, and I would give it still a year to evolve, I think that it should have a separate dimension involving its non-EU members. And Ukraine should be an absolute priority for Three Seas in my opinion, but also the other Balkan countries that are interested in joining this format. There were different considerations, I understand that there were not only Polish considerations, but other members wanted to keep this as a more infrastructural project and were afraid that the presence of somebody outside of the EU would give it a geopolitical dimension and would be perceived as an anti-Russian initiative, for example. And as we know, not all countries from this group have bad relations with Russia. But I think that if the Poles or the Croatians will continue to lead this project, they should also focus on involving our neighbours, including Ukraine and other non-EU Western Balkan countries.

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Text by Chen Ou Yang and Eilish Hart