2. The Three Seas summit
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* The situation is even more alarming in the energy sector. Most of the TSI countries are heavily dependent on Russia for their gas supplies. The biggest existing gas infrastructure investment is the Nord Stream I pipeline connecting Russia with Germany – and bypassing Poland and the Baltics.
- In the TSI countries, this has been seen as making them more vulnerable, and the projected Nord Stream II could further exacerbate the situation. Conversely, diversification of gas supplies from sources other than Russia and the construction of new pipelines along the north-south axis would improve energy security and reduce potential leveraging by Russia.
- Finally, Russia’s hybrid warfare has provided a very strong incentive to develop infrastructure along the eastern borders of NATO and the EU. Recently, NATO has adopted multiple measures to secure its eastern flank, including new military deployments. But without improving both civil and military mobility – i.e. by building quality roads, railways, bridges, airports, pipelines, and fibre optic links – the eastern frontiers will remain indefensible.
A motor for integration
This is the backdrop against which the TSI has emerged. It was founded on the observation that the development of strong ties with “old Europe” did not go hand in hand with regional integration. The TSI seeks to connect the new EU members among themselves in three main areas: energy, transportation infrastructure and digitalisation. Participating states have identified some key energy and transportation projects as TSI flagships.
In the energy sector, there are at least four distinct macro-projects:
- Gas pipelines connecting two LNG terminals: Swinoujsce, at the Baltic Sea, which is already in service; and Krk, a Croatian island in the northern Adriatic Sea, planned to be completed in 2019. The two facilities will allow the importing of gas from the U.S., Qatar or Algeria
- The Gas Interconnection Poland-Lithuania, (GIPL), which would integrate isolated gas markets in the Baltic states into the EU gas grid
- The North-South Gas Corridor, or BRUA, a system of bidirectional gas pipelines. In the south, it would connect to offshore fields in the Black and Caspian seas (via the new TANAP pipeline in Turkey). On its western end, it would integrate the Balkans into the EU gas grid, via Baumgarten in Austria
- The Eastring pipeline, which would connect existing gas pipelines in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia
In the transportation sector, there are also four major infrastructure projects:
- Via Carpathia, a new highway that would connect a Baltic port (Klaipeda, Lithuania) with an Aegean trading hub (Thessaloniki, Greece)
- Modernization of the North-South Highway, along route E65, that would connect the Baltic (from Szczecin, Poland) with the Adriatic Sea (Rijeka, Croatia)
- Rail Baltica, which would connect Warsaw, Kaunas (Lithuania), Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki
- Rail 2 Sea, which would connect Gdansk, Poland and Constanta, a Romanian port on the Black Sea
So far, most of those projects are still on paper. Krzysztof Szczerski, the Polish president’s cabinet chief and the main architect of the TSI, recently said that “we enter a key stage as TSI evolves from a theoretical concept to practical implementation.” Turning all these plans into reality will require big capital inflows.
The TSI is a promising plan with interesting economic potential but also a few inherent political fault lines. So far, it is mostly funded by member states with little private participation. To succeed, the project must overcome three hurdles. The first and most crucial question is who the investors will be. Secondly, the TSI must stay united and convince Brussels that the project is in the interest of the EU as a whole. And third, it must secure the support of important countries outside the EU.
- Outside Europe, Russia may certainly try to kill the plan, not least because it prefers investments along the west-east axis. On the other hand, the U.S. will continue to firmly support the plan, as it has from the very beginning. U.S. President Donald Trump attended the 2017 summit in Warsaw, and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry came to the most recent one in Bucharest.
- Washington’s attitude is clearly tied to future LNG exports to Europe and improving the security of NATO’s eastern flank. China may also support selected TSI projects because of potential synergy with Beijing’s own regional structure covering Central and Eastern Europe (the so-called 16+1) and its Belt and Road Initiative. Turkey will play an important role because it controls the Black Sea straits and serves as the only viable option for alternative terrestrial gas supplies.
Inside Europe, the TSI was initially approached with suspicion. Germany viewed gas projects as competing with their interests and Brussels feared the initiative’s divisive potential. Dissent even appeared within the TSI; for example, some Czech and Austrian diplomats expressed concerns that the project could harm their relations with Berlin.
In the run-up to the September Bucharest summit, TSI leaders started a diplomatic offensive, arguing that the project’s aim is neither to create an alternative to the EU nor to target any specific EU country. In the short term, they were successful, if one goes by the big names that attended the event: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, top representatives of major international banks, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the role of the partner country. The TSI also attracted reasonable attention from the business community and agreed to establish the Three Seas Investment Fund to generate resources for financing their projects.
In the long run, the TSI will avoid failure only if both its member states and EU institutions play their parts of the game rationally, with an understanding of their mutual interests. The Central and Eastern European countries seem to appreciate that such a project can hardly progress without EU support.
A lot will ride, too, on EU institutions’ ability to grasp that the improvement of security and stability in CEE is in the interest of the body as a whole, and these projects deserve the mantle of legitimate EU investments. The TSI countries can proceed confidently, as long as they stay united. Their voting power in the EU is strong enough to achieve their objectives.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: gisreportsonline.com