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Setting Sail on the Three Seas

Setting Sail on the Three Seas

On the eve of summits, the foreign ministers of Poland and Romania say it’s time to leap forward in democracy and development.

Bogdan Aurescu, Zbigniew Rau

The world still has not turned the corner in its struggle with the coronavirus, but preparations for the post-pandemic recovery are well under way. The European Union has already approved a recovery fund of €750 billion, aimed at stimulating European economies that now face the headwinds created by forced lockdowns.

Of this fund, €180 billion, or $215 billion, have been allocated to the twelve Central and Eastern European EU members that cooperate in the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), an ambitious interconnectivity project centered on energy, transportation, and digitalization. This contribution is a step toward eliminating the infrastructure gap at a time when connectivity is especially important, and the 3SI is well equipped to put these resources to work.

Over the past five years, the 3SI has become an important fixture in the world of regional cooperation. Through its European and U.S. connections, the initiative is a true catalyst of the transatlantic relationship. In July, political and business leaders from the 3SI participating states will hold another annual summit, this time hosted by Bulgaria. During the summit, we will seek solutions to the puzzle of how to facilitate a return to post-pandemic normalcy and create new opportunities for the region’s security and prosperity. Poland and Romania firmly believe that the recovery should be a transatlantic effort, and the 3SI should be avant-garde.

The post-pandemic new normal will be digital, and it will be increasingly green. This is why the digital sphere will be key to rebuilding our societies, economies, and alliances. We need new digital infrastructure not just within Europe, but across the Atlantic, as data has become a strategic asset.

The 3SI is part of our response to the need for developing energy, transport, and digital infrastructure that will be more climate-friendly, fully aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal.

Our intention is to use the shock created by the pandemic to leap forward. It is our chance to emphasize renewable, nuclear, and other low- or zero-carbon solutions. The private sector seizes an opportunity once it sees it—and we encourage it to support the priorities of the 3SI.

The priorities of the 3SI were well aligned with those of the EU from the very beginning, emphasizing the need for a robust common European market and increased economic convergence. The EU recovery fund will undoubtedly work in lockstep with the Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund that we have successfully set up.

Two projects long championed by both Romania and Poland would be especially well positioned to succeed in this dual digital and increasingly green context.

Our ambition is to turn the railway between the ports of Gdansk and Constanța, also known as Rail-2-Sea, and the road route Via Carpathia, which both contribute to greater connectivity along the north-south axis, into flagships of the digital, increasingly green 3SI. Environmentally friendly solutions, coupled with cutting-edge innovations in the telecommunications sector, would be their hallmarks.

The 3SI would represent a concrete and much needed strategic American economic footprint in the region, complementary to the security-military dimension of the U.S. presence. It would be a concrete counterweight to investments in critical infrastructure by actors who do not share our democratic values and interests, hindering their political and economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

These projects would also allow us to move our troops around in a more robust and strategically savvy manner. Strengthening the connectivity between the north and the south of NATO’s eastern flank is critical for the consolidation of Allied defense and deterrence posture. This is all the more important as, earlier this year, the Russian Federation once again proved that it has turned its ability to swiftly deploy military personnel and equipment into a strategic asset, raising the tension at Ukraine’s border and in the Black Sea region as a whole.

Enhanced troop mobility would be able to defuse crises and add credibility to our calls for de-escalation. More strategic projects could and should follow, but that depends also on the successful implementation of those already proposed.

This is how economic-technological and security-military dimensions overlap in Central Europe, creating a strategic rationale for greater American involvement.

Fortunately, the 3SI has always had a strong Atlanticist identity. It is a clear example of positive transatlantic cooperation that enjoys bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and across the new U.S. administration.

If handled properly by Washington and reinforced not just with political will but also with financial support, and endowed with openness for technological cooperation, the investments the EU and the United States are about to launch in critically important infrastructure projects will be decisive. If we want the free world to prevail in a 21st century defined by technological competition, this window of opportunity should not be missed.

On the whole, perhaps the pandemic was a much needed wake-up call. It has made us all brutally aware of our vulnerabilities and of the challenges we face. Indeed, as long as physical barriers to economic and social development persist, prosperity, political stability, and security of the transatlantic space will continue to elude us.

A more equitable and balanced approach to the development of energy, transport, and digital infrastructure—an approach long advocated by the participating states of the 3SI—could be a winning formula for European and transatlantic recovery, and we very much count on U.S. economic involvement in this direction.

Consolidated transatlantic cooperation on major projects will have an important multiplying effect, contributing to both economic recovery and resilience on both sides of the Atlantic. Furthermore, investing in the interconnectivity in the Three Seas area will increase the interest and the presence of international investors in the region, thus facilitating further economic development and, at the same time, a positive effect on neighboring regions.

Bogdan Aurescu is minister of foreign affairs of Romania. A lawyer and professor of public international law at the Faculty of Law, University of Bucharest, he served as an advisor for foreign policy to the president of Romania from May 2016 to November 2019. In 2016 he was elected as a member of the UN International Law Commission.

Zbigniew Rau is minister of foreign affairs of Poland and a member of the Polish Parliament. A lawyer, university lecturer, and professor of law, he is founder and head of the Alexis de Tocqueville Center of Political and Legal Thought, University of Lodz.

EuropeU.S. Foreign Policy