Date: 22 November 2022 Author: David Stulík, Senior Analyst at the European Values Center for Security Policy
The Czechs may soon revise their approach to the Three Seas Initiative
Although the Czech Republic is a member of the Three Seas Initiative, it approaches this format of cooperation in the region with some reserve. There were many reasons for this, the most important of which turned out to be a pragmatic attitude towards the aforementioned geopolitical project. As part of it, no specific projects have been implemented so far, with the exception of annual summits and the creation of the Three Seas Fund.
The Czech Republic perceived the Three Seas Initiative as one of many institutionalized cooperation formats in the region, along with the Visegrad Group and the Central European Initiative. The government in Prague also expressed concerns that the initiative would be dominated by Poland, which aspires to be the leader of the Three Seas Initiative group.
The Czechs quite pragmatically focused on obtaining EU funds for transport infrastructure (roads, highways and high-speed rail), digitization and energy. The Three Seas Initiative does not offer similar tools to support key infrastructure projects. Therefore, it is neither an alternative to EU aid nor an additional source of financing.
Neither the government of the Czech Republic nor the incumbent president show much interest in actively participating in the Three Seas Initiative. Interestingly, Miloš Zeman submitted only one project under the Three Seas Fund. It is a water canal connecting the Czech Republic with the Oder and the Baltic Sea on the one hand and the Danube on the other – a senseless project that threatens the natural environment.
The Czech Republic revised its policy towards the Three Seas Initiative just after the elections last October. Representatives of the new ruling coalition, which included five centre-right groups, confirmed their willingness to continue cooperation in just one short sentence. The new authorities did not differ in this respect from their predecessors until the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Everything changed after February 24 this year. Immediately after Russia’s aggression against neighboring Ukraine, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe faced the task of strengthening security and stability in the region, especially in the face of Russian hybrid activities, the energy crisis caused by Moscow, as well as the influx of refugees from Ukraine to the Three Seas Initiative countries.
This prompted the Czech authorities to reconsider several issues of cooperation in the region. First of all, the Russian invasion of Ukraine exposed the weakness of energy and transport connections in the Czech Republic, also with Poland (Storki I interconnector and motorways). Their expansion has been seriously abandoned in recent years.
In June this year Ukraine has been granted candidate status to the European Union. The Czech authorities realized that in order to ensure stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine’s participation in all formats of regional cooperation should be taken into account.
Such a move enables new infrastructural and energy connections that could well be pushed through under the Three Seas Initiative. The Three Seas Fund could be complementary to EU support, which Brussels could start to slowly withdraw for countries such as the Czech Republic due to the growing level of GDP.
Financed by the National Institute of Freedom – Civil Society Development Center as part of the Government Program Civic Initiatives Fund NEWFIO for the years 2021-2030.
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