US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, will arrive in Poland today and is expected to sign an agreement on strengthened cooperation in the field of energy security. Poland is just one of the destinations on his trip to Central Eastern Europe. Perry will be holding a string of meetings with leaders in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. The US Secretary of Energy visited Central Eastern Europe as recently as September, as the highest US representative at the Three Seas Initiative summit. His frequent visits to the region appear to confirm that the Donald Trump administration remains determined to increase the US presence in Central Eastern Europe in accordance with President Trump’s indication made by personally participating in the 2017 Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland.
The Three Seas Initiative was launched in 2016, having been pushed by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, as a forum grouping together EU member states in Central Eastern Europe. The name alludes to the fact that the countries in the region are located between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea. The group is made up of 12 countries. The three Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. The main goal of the forum is to facilitate improvements to the relatively poor intraregional infrastructure connections.
The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) took further important steps at the 2018 summit in September in Bucharest, Romania. As Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated in the joint press conference summarizing the summit, the project has now left the planning stage and implementation has begun. Three new organizational projects were launched at the meeting in Bucharest.
1. A Three Seas Business Forum will bring together representatives of large companies from the 12 countries with counterparts from the US, Western Europe and regions neighboring the 3SI such as the Western Balkan states, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The 12 states have compiled a short list of priority regional interconnection projects in the 3SI’s main fields of interest – transport, energy and digital. All projects on the list are government-backed and the Business Forum is intended to serve as a framework for cooperation on these projects between the 3SI and major business leaders. The Business Forum will convene annually in connection with 3SI summits.
2. A network of 3SI Chambers of Commerce was created to supplement the Business Forum. The Chambers of Commerce will have a supporting function of the Business Forum but will also serve to create direct links between business communities in the 3SI states.
3. A Letter of Intent has been signed to set up a joint investment fund for the Three Seas Initiative. The idea was originally promoted by the Polish National Development Bank BGK and quickly gained support from national development banks of other 3SI states. BGK will contribute 10% of the total value, if the investment fund which will finance projects worth 100 billion Euro over the next 30 years. The CEO of BGK Beata Daszyńska-Muzycka has stated that one of flagship projects of the investment fund would be to build a railway network connecting the Polish, Romanian, Croatian and Slovenian seaports with each other. Other projects include building up energy storage capacities in the region and digital monitoring of river pollution.
Two flagship infrastructure projects are currently in the works. The Via Carpathia highway, linking the north-south axis of the region all the way from Lithuania in the north to Greece in the South and a gas pipeline going from the recently built Świnoujście LNG terminal on the Polish Baltic coast to the planned LNG terminal on the island of Krk in Croatia. A new maritime law to facilitate its construction was passed in June and the deadline for the tender process expired on October 5th with three companies submitting bids.
The two LNG terminals in Poland and Croatia, as well as the gas pipeline running between the two will be able to supply large parts of the 3SI with natural gas, meaning that the Russian energy monopoly in the region can finally be broken. The US is expected to become the main supplier of LNG, with Poland already having signed long-term contracts for large amounts of American LNG. Indeed, this was Rick Perry’s main reason for visiting Central Eastern Europe this week. The Trump administration is eager to find new markets for its ever increasing production of natural gas, having recently gone from being an energy importer to an exporter. It also lies in the interest of the US to limit Russian influence in Central Eastern Europe, while also gaining its own foothold in a region where it’s economic presence has so far been limited.
Worried voices in Brussels and Berlin argue that the American interest in the 3SI serve to create an Central Eastern European “fifth column” within the EU, which would serve to defend US interest and sabotage a united EU front in negotiations with the US. This would be increasingly important, as the risk of a conflict on trade and tariffs between the US and the EU has not been fully averted yet. Germany subsequently applied for and were given, a partner status of the 3SI in 2018, as they hope to influence the project from within. The 3SI is entering into a crucial phase of its development and the coming years will show if the project’s high ambitions will actually be met. The next summit will take place in the summer of 2019 in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. A choice of venue which some commentators claim was picked in order to entice US President Donald Trump to yet again participate in the summit, while also being able to combine his first state visit to the home nation of his wife, Melania Trump.