1.Three Seas Initiative in action
BSSB.BE nouvelle-europe.eu 21.03.2018
Balkans Baltic Ex-USSR
*The three-seas-initiative: European regionalism of supranational nature
To quote this document: Francis Masson, “The three-seas-initiative: European regionalism of supranational nature”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 20 March 2018, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/2013, displayed on 21 March 2018
- Regionalism is not always the desire for greater independence. At the supranational level inside the European Union, it is about finding partners that share common interests or face similar challenges.
- While a multi-speed European is now finally in the pipe, some regional groups of interest have become topics for heated discussions.
Since their arrival to power in October 2015, Polish leading politicians have been tirelessly trying to build close collaborations with their neighbours. By doing so, they want to counterbalance the “old Europe’s” influence in Brussels (loosely speaking, “old Europe” refers to the pre-2004 EU-members minus Great Britain). Since 2015, the “Three Seas Initiative” has been a topic for discussion and has gained an international visibility with Donald Trump’ visit in Warsaw in July 2017.
Comments on this project of regional cooperation are often misleading because the Three Seas Initiative is usually described in the light of what is perceived as its ideological roots: Intermarium, a project of regional integration of Central Eastern Europe dating from the interwar period. I was myself misled in my article from last August for Nouvelle Europe (in French).
The confusion with the Intermarium project has many reasons, but can be understood from the perspective of an external observer as the results of the multi-layered Polish foreign policy since 2015 (a search for various alliances at regional, European and international levels). Let us first clarify what we are talking about before trying to understand the stakes underlying this project.
Three Seas Initiative: a limited framework for regional cooperation?
Shortly speaking, the Three Seas Initiative is a project of regional cooperation between twelve countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas (see the picture below by the Polish Institute of International Affairs).
The cooperation is not unconditional and all-encompassing. On the contrary, it is focussed on economic matters, notably on energy, transportation and digital communication. It was officially launched by the 2016 Declaration of Dubrovnik (Croatia).
Back then, the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic assured that the cooperation “would benefit not only these twelve EU country members but the whole European Union”.
- The whole region, which suffers from structural weakness in terms of economic development, will need 50 billion Euros of investment to develop in the coming year.
- The declaration of 2016 is a political framework based on which concrete projects will be designed to help Central and Eastern European countries catch up on their European partners. Still, the cooperation is informal, based only on a “declaration” which means that it is not legally binding for the signatory parties.
The Three Seas Initiative is not Intermarium, don’t get confused!
The term Intermarium refers to a geopolitical concept developed by interwar polish leader Józef Piłsudski. After the division of the Russian empire in the wake of the First World War (1919), Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus were newly formed independent nation-based states. Piłsudski believed that an alliance of those four states in a federative body would safeguard their respective sovereignties.
The concept was extended to Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia and Romania in the later 1930’s by the Polish minister for foreign affairs Józef Beck. For both Piłsudski and Beck, the federal entity would be located at the core of the 16th- and 17th-century Europe political entity of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and would be marked by a Polish leadership.
The scope of the Intermarium varied depending on the time and place of its formulation, sometimes stretching from the Scandinavian countries up to the Balkans.
- The concept survived in the Polish and Central Eastern European political thinking during the communist time thanks to elites in exile.
- At the same time, the keyword Intermarium remained censored in Central and Eastern Europe during the post-war era.
- After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the concept did not rise up because the geopolitical offer toward which the region strived was the EU and NATO integration.
Intermarium today: a rather pessimist view of European integration?
Still, since the new millennium and the turnaround of Russian foreign policy toward the EU, the Intermarium concept regained visibility in the Polish foreign policy narrative and was clearly promoted by Lech Kaczynski, Poland’s President from 2005-2010.
- This was visible in its attempt to diversify energy suppliers as part of his energy security strategy that aimed at cooperating with Azeri producers and later with Kazakh energy elites.
- After the former President’s death in the Smolensk plane crash, Intermarium faded away from Polish presidential foreign policy. Since then, Intermarium was more a slogan for right-wing politicians, presented as a better alternative than European integration to contain the “Russian threat”.
But in November 2015, the Polish President Andrzej Duda (member of the PiS party ruled by Jarosław Kaczynski) referred indirectly to it during a visit in Bucharest. He expressed his will to pursue the plan drafted by President Kaczynski. He wants to expand NATO bases in Central and Eastern Europe and hoped to see the countries of this region speak with one voice.
Krzysztof Szczerski, chief of Cabinet of the Polish president and advisor for international affairs, also put the two concepts in direct connection on his book The European Utopia published last year.
Nowadays, as explained by Ostap Kushnir, the term Intermanirum is loosely used in the public debate to describe “any interstate formation which has a hypothetic chance to emerge in the space between Baltic and black see”. This is one of the reasons for the “geopolitical confusion” between Trimanirum and Intermarium.
Other reasons come from the fact that existing cooperation in the regions echoes parts of the Intermarium project of Piłsudski. A Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade was created for peacekeeping in 2009 by a trilateral agreement and eventually formed in 2014 (it has not yet been deployed).
Para-militarists groups in Ukraine and in Poland seem to consider the creation of this brigade as the premise of the realisation of the historical project of Intermarium as a replacement of a failed European Union unable to prevent the downfall of a European continent assaulted by Russia and “Islamizing” forces. For those groups: “The future of European nations lies in Intermarium as a geopolitical alternative!”
Snapshot of a video circulating on the Ukrainian YouTube praising the completion of the Intermarium project. A promotor of the project in Poland in the online-portal http://jagiellonia.org
Moreover, a forum of former presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic States, held in Kaunas (Lithuanian) on March 9-10 2017, revealed the common mistrust regarding NATO in the light of the common security interest of Eastern European State.
Vytautas Landsbergis, first leader of independent Lithuania said that “The revanchism of the old Russian empire is insurmountable”, while former Polish President Lech Walesa spoke of the need for the integration of Intermarium countries.
To sum up, Intermarium is an historical project of regional integration, while the Three Seas Initiative is a project of regional cooperation. The geopolitical confusion between Trimarium and Intermarium lies in the fact that the same question is raised by both projects: Is Poland looking to become the leader of the region and where lie its own national interests in this proposal? Or as many commentaries already put it, is the Three Seas Initiative part of an Intermarium that does not yet say its name?
- 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: nouvelle-europe.eu