The Importance of Accession to the Three Seas Initiative for Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – Analysis – Eurasia Review
By Mariam Davlashelidze *
(FPRI) – As the European Union works to maintain an economic competitive advantage over Beijing and Moscow, regional cooperation initiatives across Europe are at the fore. The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) is one such promising example. 3SI was launched in 2015 and held its first summit in Dubrovnik in 2016, followed by annual summits in all member states. 3SI was founded to promote connectivity between the nations of the Black, Adriatic and Baltic Sea regions and to support infrastructure, energy and digital projects. 3SI has geopolitical, economic and energy security relevance. The twelve countries in the initiative are Bulgaria, Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. As part of the Soviet heritage, the east-west infrastructure remains more developed than the north-south connections. This dynamic creates problems not only for the 3SI countries themselves, but for all of Europe, especially for the EU’s striving for energy independence. The dominance of east-west pipelines and limited alternatives to these pipelines were factors in Europe’s continued energy dependence on Russia.
Russia’s near monopoly as an energy supplier for most of Europe gives Moscow significant political and economic influence. In this context, 3SI plays an essential role for sustainable and deeper European integration. It also serves as an important instrument for the expansion of the European energy infrastructure and can open up new avenues for alternative providers.
The 2021 Three Seas Initiative Summit was held in Sophia, Bulgaria to assess progress and plan future steps. The participating executives discussed the challenges and perspectives of ongoing projects in the areas of energy innovation, transport and digitization. In his opening speech, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev emphasized 3SI’s willingness to work with other regional and global actors. The member states stated: “We remain open to cooperation with other regional and global actors with whom we share the same democratic values, European and transatlantic orientations and common interests.”
Despite the strategic importance of the Black Sea region, the initiative consists only of member states of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), even if 3SI does not impose any restrictions on non-NATO / EU member states. Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova in particular are not members. All three have association agreements, free trade agreements and visa-free travel agreements with the EU. In October 2021, Ukraine expressed an interest in joining 3SI. In January 2021, the heads of state and government of both countries reaffirmed their interests in a joint declaration with Moldovan President Maia Sandu: “We emphasize our readiness to strengthen cooperation with partner countries in south-eastern Europe and on the Black Sea. In this context, we confirm our interest in becoming part of the Three Seas Initiative. “
Recently Tbilisi, Kiev and Chisinau signed a declaration aimed at deepening their cooperation with the EU. At the Batumi summit on July 19, all three heads of state and government discussed the importance of 3SI: “We will examine possibilities for cooperation with the Three Seas Initiative in order to achieve the connectivity goals of the EU and to physically connect our states with the EU The Polish and Estonian Presidents discussed the importance of integrating the three countries into the initiative and how membership of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will create significant economic and political opportunities. Some 3SI countries reject their membership because of their high energy dependency and their relations with Russia or because of their non-compliance with the economic and democratic level of development.
The separation of the Associated Trio from 3SI creates a power vacuum. Joining 3SI would mean an improvement in the traffic of the countries, which would enable better mobility and connectivity of the north-south axis of Central and Eastern Europe. This includes the expansion of tunnels, railways, bridges and roads as well as the expansion of the port infrastructure. It would also ensure a safe and sustainable energy supply and include projects such as the north-south gas corridor expansion between Hungary and Slovakia, the promotion of unconventional gas developments and solar energy. The Baltic Pipe in particular is one of the priority projects in which Ukraine is considered a partner country and connects Poland with Slovakia and Poland with Ukraine. The digitization and IT infrastructure projects include the adaptation of GSM-R towers to 5G and the construction of cross-border data centers. Of all 77 projects, 51% are intended for transport. 32% energy development and 17% digitization. Joining 3SI will ensure sustainable development and predictable policy choices for Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
Ukraine’s transit potential will help develop the infrastructure of all 3SI members. They would all benefit from Ukraine’s domestic underground gas storage facilities, which would help create a more competitive gas market and common energy security. 3SI has a number of projects that would take advantage of each country’s strategic location, such as the Viking Train, which will connect the Baltic and Black Seas. Rail-2-Sea will connect cargo from the Black Sea with Northern Europe. The Danube-Black Sea Canal creates favorable conditions for the potential development of non-EU members and promotes energy security. 3SI currently has 48 priority projects. Notably, 13 non-EU countries were involved in at least one infrastructure project.
The positions of some countries on priority projects and future policies remain mixed. Each country looks at 3SI priority projects from a different angle. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are not supporters of the initiative. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria did not take part in the initiative, while Hungary contributed € 20 million. While Hungary, for example, sees infrastructure projects as one of the greatest potentials, the Czech Republic and Slovakia remain skeptical about the feasibility of the infrastructure projects. The future of the initiative and its potential for expansion to non-EU members, particularly the Associated Trio, remain vague. During the recent summit, there was no discussion of the possibility of inviting new members to the initiative, despite Polish and Estonian attempts to include non-EU Black Sea countries. Some countries remain hesitant because of the security threats emanating from Russia. Another reason for the skepticism of the 3SI members is the level of development of the Associated Trio. The countries of the Associated Trio are still reforming their economies to bring them closer to EU standards. Even former Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid noted that Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova may take 20 years of work to achieve EU membership.
Involving non-EU member states in 3SI projects can benefit the EU, especially when it comes to developing transport corridors and diversifying energy. Diversifying energy sources away from Russia will shift the power dynamic in Europe and weaken Russia’s geopolitical position.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.
* About the author: Mariam Davlashelidze is a research intern in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute
Source: This article was published by FPRI. released