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Alakshendra Tripathi asked: What is the 'Three Seas Initiative' and how does it impact the geopolitics in the Eurasian region?

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  • Abhay Kumar Singh replies: The Three Seas Initiative is a forum of Central and Eastern European (CEE) states launched in 2015. It was envisioned by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. The Initiative seeks to create a new dynamic of cooperation among countries located at the eastern borders of the European Union (EU) in order to advance economic growth and help bridge the East-West economic gap within the EU through energy, transport, and digital connectivity.

    The Three Seas Initiative has 12 EU member states along a north-south axis from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The first summit of the Initiative was held in Dubrovnik on August 25-26, 2016; the second in Warsaw on July 06-07, 2017 which was also attended by the US President Donald Trump; and the third in Bucharest on September 17-18, 2018. China too has participated in these summits as a key partner.

    Unarguably, there exists a need for enhancing connectivity infrastructure in CEE region to foster regional trade and convergence with Western Europe. According to a study by EU, road and rail journeys in the CEE region take on an average two to four times longer than comparable journeys in Western Europe. Similarly, most of the gas pipelines in the region run east to west linking Russia to Western Europe. There are two key infrastructure projects related to the Three Seas Initiative: (i) A north-south road network “Via Carpathia” linking Klaipeda in Lithuania with Thessaloniki in Greece, and (ii) A liquefied natural gas infrastructure, with ocean terminals in Poland and Croatia and a connecting pipeline to the national gas grid of member states, aimed at reducing dependence on Russian gas.

    There is growing realisation among CCE countries that rather than being solely dependent on EU funding for sub-regional economic development, they need to seek external institutional and private funding for regional economic development. Even though the Initiative has the concurrence of Brussels, there exists a mixture of skepticism and suspicion in Western Europe as it is being seen by EU commentators as an effort by CEE states to enhance their geopolitical leverage.

    The Initiative is also perceived by some analysts as anti-German and even countering the centrality of EU. Some argue that the US may use the Initiative for exerting influence in the EU. It needs to be noted that nearly all member states of the Three Seas Initiative are also parties in the Chinese-led “16+1” cooperation mechanism, which was designed to leverage China’s economic engagement with the CEE countries and consolidate its strategic position in this part of the EU. China considers that the Three Seas Initiative has significant convergence with its own Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

    Posted on January 16, 2019