In a recent opinion piece, Wojciech Przybylski warned that Donald Trump’s endorsement of the Three Seas Initiative coupled with the subsequent politics of the Polish government may overshadow the Visegrad Group. I really cannot see why something like this should happen and why the countries involved in the initiative would be marginalized in the EU as a consequence.
The Three Seas Inititative (TSI) is a very useful geopolitical idea and a new instrument of European integration. It will rather bring appreciation, not isolation, to the countries involved. Furthermore, the active support for the TSI by the president of the United States, whether one likes him or not, can only help.
TSI is an idea that revolves around the deeper integration of the eastern members of the European Union in terms of logistics, energy security, connectivity and infrastructure. One of the staunchest supporters of TSI in Poland is president Andrzej Duda.
According to Przybylski, Donald Trump’s visit to Poland on 6th July will put a spotlight on the TSI, thus strengthening it visibility and international importance. However, Przybylski warns that Trump may be in fact using Poland to show Germany, France and the EU that he is capable of constructing a political initiative that goes against their vision of the future of Europe.
As a result, Warsaw may become overconfident and confrontational after Trump’s visit, which will in turn lead to Poland’s gradual isolation in the EU. Hence Przybylski thinks the upcoming TSI gathering may be a meeting of the “future political pariahs”.
Seas of cooperation, oceans of misunderstanding
Such a grave scenario is as worrisome, as it is unrealistic. First of all, why should a country capable of attracting the support of the US administration for an internal EU project suddenly become “a pariah” as a result? Why should we assume Warsaw will get more confrontational after Trump’s visit?
Przybylski indicates at some problems with the very term “Three Seas” as the source of potential damage. He notes that the Czech diplomacy thinks of TSI as a modern version of the imperial Inter Seas Utopia (ISU) from the 1920s, which was an anti-German project.
Certainly, the Three Seas Initiative does have something in common with the Inter Seas Utopia from 1920s. It is the word “Seas” in both of them. The reference to the seas is there as both terms refer to the similar geographical region. Apart from this, however, they refer to completely different things.
President Duda’s administration has repeatedly clarified that TSI is an internal EU initiative aiming at strengthening the EU and as far as I know the potentially confusing “Inter Seas” phrase with its utopian connotations was not involved in this context.
However, it is true that “Three Seas” and “Inter Seas” labels were frequently mixed up in the Polish media by journalists, analysts and pundits, which might have resulted in some international confusion. The present attitude of Czech diplomacy suggests more work should be done to avoid negative connotations here.
In the meantime, let us clarify what TSI and ISU mean.
Inter Seas Utopia (or Intermarium) from 1920s was an idea of a deep political cooperation of almost all states between Germany and Russia. These states, altogether, would be capable of balancing the increasingly aggressive politics of Russian-German alliance (nota bene history proved this alliance was indeed aggressive and harmful). ISU involved creating a “mini EU” in a few decades out of the set of countries which are geopolitically, culturally, religiously and economically more diverse than the present-day EU. Indeed, it was a loony idea. There’s no doubt about this.
The Three Seas Initiative (or Trimarium) is an infrastructural project whose goal is to technologically modernise the eastern wall of the European Union, specifically aimed at security gains and increased regional integration. Faced with the Russian military expansion to the west (the hybrid war in Ukraine) many countries in the eastern part of Europe are feeling the pressure and recognise the need to cooperate in order to successfully combat any potential military, infrastructural, logistic or misinformation-related crisis.
CEE can certainly benefit from such technological modernisation, especially that it has long existed as an underdeveloped region exploited by Moscow due to the many decades under communist rule (1945-1989). It is important to note that TSI is based on pragmatic bilateral or multilateral projects that aim to bridge any technological gaps and connect the countries at the eastern EU’s wall.
Depending on the projects in question, it may ad hoc involve many different countries that feel the geopolitical pressure from the East, such as the Visegrad Group, Baltic states, Nordic states, Croatia or Romania.
ISU and TSI are thus totally different things.
Connectivity of the east will benefit Europe
However, believe it or not, some Czech politicians mistake the TSI for ISU. This apparently leads them to suppose the Polish politicians who will host Trump are eager to encourage other EU countries to introduce loony ideas from the 1920s to build a federation against Germany and Russia, count together, in the heart of the European Union. This sounds ridiculous the very moment we start to pronounce it aloud.
As we have shown with Piotr Arak in State Power Index 1991-2017 report, this sounds ridiculous in detail as well. Firstly, Germany is the European leader and remains in the same EU camp as Poland, so there is no point in constructing a structure to counter Russia-Germany cooperation. Secondly, no coalition of countries between Russia and Germany could counter their cooperative power.
As we have counted, even the coalition of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland), Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), Visegrad group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary), supported by Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Serbia (4.86 points of power) would not constitute a counterweight for the combined power of Germany (3.09 points) and Russia (5.25 points) totalling 8.34 points.
The image of TSI potential at the eastern EU flank used during the presentation of “State Power Index 2017” in the European Commission Representation Office in Warsaw on 25th May 2017, by Piotr Arak and Grzegorz Lewicki. The orange area marks the zone of potential pressure from the east suitable for TSI projects.
Let us stick to reality. TSI is a pragmatic initiative which is neither anti-German, nor anti-EU. To the contrary, the eastern EU countries to be included in the TSI are the most pro-European countries in the continent.
For example, the Polish nation is the most pro-EU society in the entire EU, with 72% supporting the integration, as opposed to 50% in Germany. The current Polish government, although sometimes clumsy and unsatisfied with Poland’s international standing, has never rejected the idea of European integration.
In fact, TSI’s long term goals are pro-European to the bone. It aims at raising EU’s security, connectivity and its infrastructural coherence. It also adds another instrument of EU integration to the pool, which is very good. The more instruments of regional integration EU has, the better.
Appreciation, not isolation
So why Przybylski thinks TSI will overshadow other valuable initiative in the CEE? He assumes the current Polish government will not handle Trump’s visit properly. He also believes some Polish politicians may suffer from the intoxication with diplomatic victory that will make them start to think too highly of themselves. Or he just thinks the current government is ridiculous en masse, so its projects, TSI included, must share this negative quality.
However, this is a subjective opinion. As such it is totally independent from the objective, pragmatic usefulness of the Three Seas Initiative for the entire European Union. It goes without saying that TSI will benefit the EU as a whole, as thanks to modernisation of the eastern wall, the security and international standing of the entire EU will rise significantly.
Certainly, some Polish politicians are known from being prone to confrontational or crude enunciations and international communication of Polish foreign policy should be worked on.
However, we must not forget that TSI is a very useful instrument of advancing EU integration – whoever is in power. It is thus more likely to result in the international appreciation, not isolation, of those who endorse it in the long run.
Grzegorz Lewicki – philosopher, journalist, international relations analyst. He has recently published Cities in the Neomedieval Era (2016), a prognostic book that develops neomedieval theory of globalization; he also co-authored State Power Index (2017) that measures hard and soft power of all countries in the world together with the hypothetical power of the fully integrated European Union