How to Make 3SI a Force of Good
8 July 2021
The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) yearly presidential and business summits are happening in Sofia this week. Here, we explain some common questions and misconceptions surrounding the 3SI to get you up to date with this lesser known regional initiative. Read more in our report here.
The reason for the name is due to the geographic location of the twelve 3SI countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas. The name has sparked some controversy due to its association with a Polish interwar idea of ‘Intermarum’, the failed predecessor of the 3SI which resembled more of a geopolitical and military project rather than an economic one. While not the best thought out name due to the Polish domineering connotation, it simply denotes the geographical positioning of the countries.
The 3SI was started by the Polish and Croatian Presidents and held its first Summit in Dubrovnik in 2016. The reason for the Initiative was sparked by an Atlantic Council report entitled ‘Completing Europe’ which brought to light the lack of real connectivity within Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) due to its communist past. The goal of the 3SI is to support regional connectivity projects in the three areas of transport, digital (such as 5G connectivity), and energy (such as gas pipelines and LNG). Since 2016, the initiative has grown to add a business forum, a website and an investment fund (3SIIF).
The 3SI is a presidential forum that is held yearly since 2016. It represents roughly a third of the EU’s territory, a quarter of its population and one-fifth of its GDP. Each year, one of the members hosts the forum and takes on a lead role in organising the event. Currently, there are 12 members of the initiative: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. There are also three observers that are invited each year, namely the USA, Germany and the EU. More can be invited to the summits, for example, the head of state of Greece was invited to this year’s Bulgarian summit. While there are only members and observers, lots of priority projects within the forum work with countries outside the initiative — a total of 13 non-EU countries have been involved in at least one infrastructure project.
The 3SI is not a formal grouping, so it does not tie the members together through legal means, nor is it a part of the EU officially. What brings the countries together is a common interest in interconnecting the region, something which was not possible before due to the Iron Curtain. While all the members are EU member states, the initiative encourages investment from outside countries like the US and from private investors, which was the main catalyst behind forming the 3SIIF, a private fund headed by the London based Amber group located in Luxemburg. At the last 3SI summit in Estonia, hosted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, Polish President Andrezj Duda and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid confirmed that the Investment Fund has the potential to become a vehicle for infrastructure investment even beyond the borders of 3SI member states.
The proposed source of financing of all projects has the EU at the top with 41 per cent of funding through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and other EU programmes. The second-largest source is national funding at 24 per cent, and the 3SI IF is currently proposed to cover 9 per cent. So far, 9 out of 12 member states have contributed to the 3SI IF – the only ones left to commit are Slovakia, Czechia, and Austria. The largest source of overall funding is by far the EU as many of the projects are shared with the EU’s priorities known as the TEN-T. Currently, 95.9 billion euros have been secured out of the total 180.9 billion euro budget, which is 53 per cent of the total. There are 90 planned or ongoing projects in the 3SI with only 2 completed, but with 15 having substantial progress and an additional 15 actively reported. You can view the list of projects along with their progress reports here.
The largest misconceptions are that it is an attempt by Donald Trump to split the EU and that it is a Polish project to gain influence in the region and in Europe. These misconceptions are not helped by the name of the initiative which has bad historical connotations in the region nor by Trump’s visit in 2017, which has been a lasting image problem for the initiative. However, the regular attendance of high-level EU officials and German representatives since the third 3SI Summit in Bucharest has dispelled official narratives that the project runs counter to EU interests. The 3SI benefits Poland as it benefits all countries in the initiative through increasing connectivity of the region, but it does not coordinate anti-EU positions. The EU, in fact, has endorsed the initiative and takes active part in it, as well as being the largest source of funding for many of the projects.
The Initiative has garnered positive views from the Biden administration with an endorsement by Antony Blinken as well as bi-partisan unanimous support in the US Congress, so it is not just a Republican or Trump endeavour. The US has an observer status role in the Initiative alongside Germany and the EU, all of which have endorsed the initiative and send representatives to the annual summits. China does not have an official status within the 3SI and the initiative is not connected to the 16+1 cooperation with China, although all states, except for Austria and Lithuania, participate in both.
The Initiative is fairly new, being started in 2016 and only agreed upon its first priority projects in the 2018 Summit. Moreover, it is not talked about much outside of the Summits as it is a very specialised form of cooperation between member states. While in the run-up to summits it does get some press coverage especially in the host country, it is meant more as a platform to discuss between the countries and to attract investors. If you don’t deal with Transatlantic or Central European affairs or aren’t a private investor in the region, you are less likely to have heard of it. This can change depending on the success of this ambitious endeavour.
Featured photo of Varna, Bulgaria by Presentsquare on Unsplash
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