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What is the Three Seas Initiative and why is it expanding?

Robert Schwartz
September 6, 2023

Greece is set to become the 13th member of the Three Seas Initiative at its summit in Bucharest. Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova will be granted partner status.

A pier stretches out into the Baltic Sea as the sun rises
Sunrise on the Baltic SeaImage: Michael Probst/AP Photo/picture alliance

What is the Three Seas Initiative?

The Three Seas Initiative is a political platform that brings together 12 EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. At this year's Three Seas summit in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, Greece will become the 13th member of the initiative alongside Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

As strategic partners that support the Three Seas Initiative, the European Commission, Germany, the United States and representatives of a number of relevant international organizations will also attend the two-day summit.

What are the initiative's priorities?

The Three Seas Initiative is first and foremost a political project that seeks to foster economic cooperation between its members and boost their economic development. Apart from Austria, all current members of the initiative joined the European Union after 2004.

The initiative's top focus is on the development of members' energy, transport and digital infrastructure and the strengthening of the north-south axis in eastern Europe.

Why was the Three Seas Initiative set up?

One of the reasons for the establishment of this initiative was the growing threat from Russia and the dependence of member states on Russian energy imports. In addition, the initiative's members wanted to give greater weight to their political interests within the EU. Although the countries of the Three Seas Initiative make up about 25% of both the surface area and population of the EU, they account for only just over 10% of its gross national product.

Russia's war in Ukraine has shifted the initiative's economic policy priorities, with security now a major focus. In response to Russia's aggression, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova — neither of which are members of the EU — have expressed an interest in joining the initiative. It is expected that both countries will be offered a solid partnership at the Bucharest summit.

Is this the first initiative of its kind in this region?

An attempt was made in the 1930s to set up a similar kind of forum. Back then, Poland sought for the second time to set up an alliance of several countries between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. Intermarium — as the project was known — was intended to be a geostrategic platform that would provide protection against both Stalin's Communist Soviet Union and Hitler's Nazi Germany. The plan failed.

What has happened in recent years?

Eight decades later, another attempt was made and led to the establishment of the Three Seas Initiative — a new name for a project with new objectives. In 2015, Polish President Andrzej Duda and the then Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic set up the initiative, which was initially intended to be an infrastructure project that would strengthen cooperation within Central and Eastern Europe. The first Three Seas summit took place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2016.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic speaks to delegates at the first Three Seas summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia, August 25, 2016
The Three Seas Initiative was instigated by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (center) and Polish President Andrzej DudaImage: Grgo Jelavic/PIXSELL/picture alliance

A year later, at the summit in Warsaw, Poland, the United States announced its desire to work more closely with the initiative. Germany also expressed an interest in becoming more involved in the platform at the summit the following year in Bucharest.

An investment fund has since been set up to finance the initiative's projects.

This article was originally published in German.