Towards 3SI Civil Society Forum

3 Seas, 4 Scenarios, 9 Recommendations, 5-year Perspective

21 September 2021

On the eve of the 3 Seas Initiative Summit and Business Forum taking place in Sofia this July, Central Europe’s leading policy analysis and media platform Visegrad Insight released a scenario-based report outlining the need for a 3SI Civil Society Forum that would strengthen the democratic security in the region.

The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) is a political format that aims to stimulate investment in the regional connectivity of 12 Central and Eastern European (CCE) countries located in-between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas. Priority projects — which are concentrated in the three key areas of transport, energy and digital infrastructure — are primarily financed by the EU, followed by national contributions of member states and the recently-established 3SI Investment Fund that is open to private investment. More information about the format here

Projected to be the fastest-growing part of the EU’s economy, the 3SI is expected to help bridge Eastern Europe’s infrastructure gaps and build on the impetus for common development policies in the region. The private fund responsible for investment has been growing at a steady pace with national contributions from 3SI members reaching 1 billion euros in 2021. A further 1 billion US dollars has been pledged by the US, contributing to the already most ambitious EU 7-year perspective budget ever.  

In February, the 3SI was endorsed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who dispersed the EU suspicions towards the Initiative brought about by Donald Trump’s divisive diplomacy and support for CEE democratic backsliders. Adding to the political momentum is support from Germany, which retains an observer status in the Initiative as well as endorsement of the European Commission. 

However, Central Europe faces an uphill battle when it comes to fending off external authoritarian influence and preserving democracy at home, which remains a source of major concern for its democratic partners and key investors. To fully ensure that the influx of funds brings prosperity to the region, 3SI countries must safeguard transparency of investment, the integrity of electoral institutions, media freedom and civil society participation in governance

Against this background, our findings suggest that the creation of a Civil Society Forum would not only address these obstacles undermining the ambitious cooperation format but also act as a bulwark against corruption and reassert the societies’ control over their future. 

3SI Civil Society Forum #Futures 

Presentations of the Towards a 3SI Civil Society Forum Report:

  • 20 September at 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM CET, Vienna, Austria.

Invitation-only meeting with a dedicated group of stakeholders at the premises of Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW). During this session, the Editor-in-Chief of Visegrad Insight and Co-author of the report, Wojciech Przybylski, presented the report to members of the diplomatic society and civil society members in Vienna and the wider Central Europe. After the presentation, there was a Question and Answer session which will be summarized below. 

Q: What will this 3SI Civil Society Forum (CSF) look like practically?

A: Currently the 3SI CSF is being discussed. USAID is currently in the process of launching Civil Society consultations. The CSF should bring in Think Tanks and community groups in order to network and strategize as well as work together to take advantage of EU funds.

Q: I have heard that the US pledge to contribute to the 3SI has decreased is this true?

A: The US Congress has given bipartisan support to the initiative and Joe Biden has reaffirmed the US’s approval of the initiative. The pledge by the American’s is meant to cause a snowballing effect in that once US money is involved it will attract private investors from around the world to also invest. The region as a whole is growing economically and a chance to invest in it is likely to be taken up by many.

To show the CSF in Vienna
Presentation of the report by author Wojciech Przybylski at the WIIW in Vienna.
  • 14 September at 9:00 AM CET, Turda, Romania

A breakfast discussion, part of Rațiu Dialogues on Democracy Conference. An on-site event at Casa Rațiu. The report was discussed with attendees of the Rațiu Dialogues on Democracy which is part of LSE Ideas. During the discussion, our fellow Radu Albu-Comanescu went into depth about what the Three Seas Initiative means for Romania. Introduction of the report was followed by a Q&A sessions with participants:

Q: I have heard that the 3SI is sometimes viewed as a Polish Imperial Project, is it one?

A: It is often criticized by especially politicians in Czechia as being a Polish Imperial Project. It does not help that the name ‘Three Seas’ is close to the Interwar Polish foreign policy agenda known as ‘Intermarium’. This perception is such a problem that one of the recommendations in the report is for the Polish government to stop looking into the past and viewing the project as a way to ‘return to Polish grandeur and to treat it as a concrete initiative that is mutually beneficial for all participants.

Q: The 3SI seems to be very much connected to the European Union and not to ‘Europe’. As Britain has left the EU how should it view this project, as just merely an EU project or with implications for the continent as a whole?

A: The 3SI is made from 12 EU member states and its main source of funding is from EU funds but it is not purely an ‘EU’ project. Currently, the 3SI is separate from the EU but the EU has observer status. The Initiative has large potential to better connect countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe with a proper ‘North-South’ connection in Central Europe with many projects having non-EU countries as partners, such as Ukraine. The fund is controlled by a UK company, Amber, and opens up the region to private investments from around the world.

Presentation of the report by author Kamil Jarończyk at the sideline of the conference on 14 September.

From Sofia to Riga

At the sixth annual 3SI Summit and Business Forum in Sofia this summer, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev reiterated the important role of civil society, NGOs, academia and the youth in crystallising the ideas behind the Initiative and gaining buy-in from populations in 3SI countries. Asking what comes next after ‘the asphalt is put down’, Radev called for greater participation of non-business and non-governmental groups in order to bring forward new, innovative thinking regarding the future of the format. 

The response eventually came from Latvian President Egils Levits, who agreed that deeper engagement of civil society would help promote the 3SI to the wider public and make this special region of Europe more visible in political, economic and technological terms. Levits announced that the next gathering of 3SI states in Riga would feature a 3SI Civil Society Forum as a complement to the pragmatic focus on infrastructure investment of the Business Forum. 

Latvian President Egils Levits speaking at the 3SI Summit in Bulgaria on 8 July (screenshot from the event’s live stream of the Presidential Panel).

Preparation towards a Civil Society Forum will be one of the priorities of the Latvian Presidency in 2022 and our report offers nine tangible recommendations to bring this closer to reality.  


3SI 2025 Report

Arguing that the development of civil society engagement should come hand-in-hand with the current business and political platform, Towards a 3SI Civil Society Forum explores four possible alternatives for the Initiative till 2025. The report, with support of the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), puts forward nine actionable recommendations guided by concerns over democratic security in 3SI countries. Read the report here.

Discussion with stakeholders in Warsaw (Photo credit: Dominika Rafalska)

It is based on our in-house research, several years of analysis in the field and dozens of interactive workshops concluded in 2020 and 2021, which involved a unique group of 60 regional experts from all 3SI countries. A draft report has also been consulted with key stakeholder groups at an international research conference held in Warsaw on 21-23 June involving policymakers, diplomats and civil society influencers.

In July, the main findings of the report were presented at an online session during a Visegrad Insight Breakfast meeting. Authors Wojciech Przybylski and Kamil Jarończyk spoke on why a 3SI Civil Society Forum is needed to ensure the Initiative bears fruit for the region and wider Europe. The launch has since drawn interest from diplomatic and think-tank circles in CEE and beyond.

Visegrad Insight executive team presents the report to Juha Ottman, Ambassador of Finland to Poland



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