Cooperation Between the States of the Three Seas Initiative. Will Ukraine Stay on the Side-lines?

During the Europe-Ukraine Forum held in Rzeszów, one of the discussion panels focused on the issue of the future of the Three Seas Initiative. In which direction will this project go? Can Ukraine become a part of it? Experts from Poland, Ukraine and Great Britain tried to answer these questions.

 

The Three Seas Initiative, which involves 12 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is becoming more and more popular. The new challenges that European countries are facing today call for better cooperation on transport and energy issues. Ukraine, although keenly interested in cooperation, has so far not been involved in the Initiative. The participants of the discussion focused primarily on the issue of Kyiv’s possible participation in this initiative and the potential actions that should be taken in order for the strategy of the development of infrastructure and energy projects to be extended to Ukraine.

As the moderator Markiyan Malski, the dean of the Faculty of International Relations of the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv – Ukraine, pointed out that the Three Seas Initiative is a polish idea, which is now being discussed all over Europe. It concerns the eastern flank of the European Union and its aim is to connect its member states with economic cooperation and effective development of the region’s infrastructure. Knowing the broader context of the Initiative, the question of the role of Ukraine in the process of dynamic development of cooperation in the region arises.

According to Adam Eberhardt, director of the Centre for Eastern Studies, Ukraine and  the Three Seas Initiative are only seemingly unrelated. The absence of Ukraine among the countries involved in the initiative may be related to the fact that initially the focus of the project was on the development of economy and infrastructure (distance from Ukraine), and not the geopolitical aspects (unstable political situation). As he pointed out, there are other initiatives in which Ukraine already participates, such as the Danube Euroregion, domestic regional cooperation, building energy networks, Via Carpatia, or the trans-European transport network. “Central and Eastern Europe is a mosaic of different cooperation initiatives of individual countries, like the Visegrad Group. These formats are complementary, but they are not competitive. We can propose similar solutions in the case of the Three Seas Initiative: to include Ukraine in individual projects and to think about the ” Three Seas Initiative +” format, following the example of V4+.

The Ukrainian point of view was presented by Sergei Gerasymchuk, Head of South-Eastern Europe Studies, Ukrainian Prism (Foreign Policy Council). First of all, he emphasized that Ukraine’s attitude to the Three Seas Initiative is ambiguous. “Politicians’ declarations are one thing, and the real situation is another,” he said. Brussels’ attitude to the initiative is not clear as well. The European Union supports the idea, but only if it meets all the conditions for European integration, and the budget for the cooperation of the initiative should be found within the resources of the countries involved in the project. However, what seems to be highly problematic, priorities are not usually the same and an additional obstacle is the question of where to get the money from and who will receive the most. In conclusion, Sergei Gerasymchuk said that he was optimistic, because the idea is a good one, although it is held in abeyance and the region needs closer cooperation. Ukraine, on the other hand, needs to understand how much added value it will bring and in what measure it wants to get involved.

 

Could the Initiative be a threat to the old Member States of the Union? The British perspective was presented by Joanna Hosa, Programme Manager for Wider Europe at the European Council on Foreign Relations. First of all, as she argued, it is not a well-known and promoted project in Great Britain. In her opinion, Ukraine can get involved if invited to and if the initiative becomes more specific, because not everything is clear at the moment. “There are many questions and, so far, few answers. Who can join and who decides about it? Is it a complement or competition for the EU? How will this project be financed? Another issue that determines Ukraine’s involvement in the project is the war on its territory. It is changing priorities, but on the other hand, the conflict is also creating a strong need to rebuild damaged infrastructure. The Three Seas Initiative must be more attractive to Ukraine, and then it will be ready to get involved. This must be a positive project working together with the EU, not against it, based on cooperation and not on one country’s command.

Zbigniew Krysiak, President of the Institute of Schuman’s Thought, presented a strongly different position. According to professor Krysiak, the project is not asymmetrical, there is no issue of Poland’s domination, and the participation of all countries is the same. He is also of the opinion that the Three Seas Initiative will not be full without Ukraine. “Schuman had always thought about the whole Europe, Ukraine is in Europe, it is a member of the community of nations in Europe and this is the perspective we should take”. He also emphasized that there is no idea of competing with the EU, according to the Bucharest arrangements, a fund of about 2 billion euros was created (the target is about 10 billion euros), an agreement was also signed, chambers of commerce were established in 12 countries of the initiative. The fact that this is a serious project, which is developing dynamically, can be proven by the support given by the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. It is therefore to be hoped that the Three Seas Initiative is an opportunity to rebuild the Schuman’s project – the community of nations of Europe.

It may be a project that will help Europe and that cannot be imagined without Ukraine, even if its representatives are not yet fully convinced of the legitimacy of the commitment.