On Monday 19 October, Estonia hosted the Three Seas Virtual Summit, marking the end of Estonia’s presidency of the initiative and handing over the reins to Bulgaria.
The Three Seas Initiative (TSI) brings together 12 countries in Eastern and Central Europe with the aim to develop cross-border infrastructure projects in the transport, energy and digital sectors.
Heavily influenced by the US, the TSI is in an awkward position in the European policy-making sphere: enthusiasm has been shown by a small number of European partners, most notably Poland, Romania and Estonia. Other member countries, like Austria, are still trying to figure out their role in and benefits from the initiative. The EU is an official partner in support of cross-border projects but is otherwise aloof. Germany is keeping an eye on the TSI as an official partner, while other “old Europe” member states do not know or care about the initiative.
The main problem is that it lacks poster projects. It has chosen 76 priority projects ranging from road construction to building LNG terminals, of which many are already supported by the EU. It is unclear how these 76 projects link to the TSI and how it will help them to come to fruition. Choosing three or four ventures to illustrate the TSI would make the case for supporting it more plausible. At the moment, the initiative simply seems too abstract.
This reveals a broader problem: the balance between promotion and content is off. There is a lot of talk about the initiative’s idea, the reasons behind it and the physical structures to make it work, such as the creation of the Three Seas Investment Fund and the “smart connectivity” idea. However, concrete projects and how the initiative and the funds allocated to support them were topics hardly discussed.
There is no escaping the fact that the summit fell victim to the coronavirus. Even with best efforts, virtual gatherings tone down the ability “to do and talk business”. The meeting ended up being a series of politically correct statements and promotions in favour of the initiative, with moderators in the middle doing their utmost to keep spirits high. In the end, it looked somewhat awkward and boring, which it did not need to be if it had been more concrete and practical.