Q: Recently you wrote an interesting analyse for the Polish Institute of International Affairs about the Three Seas Initiative. In the past we had plenty of projects (in many fields – like the defence) which aim was to strengthen the cooperation between the states. The Three Seas Initiative is a real plan or is it only a declaration on a paper?
A: Three Seas Initiative (TSI) goal is to complete regional infrastructure for energy, transport and digital communications. The countries involved in this project are: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Speaking about natural gas sector, this is plan has real potential, this is not just “declaration on a paper”. Why is so? The countries in the region really need gas infrastructure investments. Numerous figures and initiatives prove this: EU strategies and stress tests, Project of Common Interest list of which (in natural gas sector) most are located in the region, etc. So this is an idea build upon the real market and investment needs, not just accidental political decision. Having all of the above in the mind, we must remember that despite the fact TSI gained great momentum this year, it is up to decision-makers and companies to shape this in the future and push in the right direction.
Q: If it is not only political declaration, what are the benefits of the Three Seas Initiative for the states?
A: Most of the countries in the region lacked or still lack competitive gas market and diversified gas supplies, while creating liberalized, competitive market is one of EU’s goals. On the other hand, no import alternative lead to monopolistic practices by Gazprom in the region, as confirmed by European Commission in its antitrust case against the Russian company. The main obstacle for competitive market, is lack of gas pipeline infrastructure. Its development would allow competition between gas suppliers and also allow the imports of gas in the event of emergency situation.
TSI aims to strengthen cooperation and coordination of CEE countries’ efforts to complete this infrastructure. This aims to serve as a platform to attract more investments in gas sector (as well as other sectors mentioned above).
Q: Tomas Cizik from Slovakia, expert in information warfare field, with whom I made interview, said that Three Seas Initiative: “will bring nothing new or better or it will not improve anything. Even more, such initiatives will be more them welcomed by President Putin, who is actively doing everything to dissolve the EU and possibly NATO from long-term perspective. We should not revive the projects from the past, rather we should improve existing projects.” – Do you think that this way of thinking can be popular among the V4 experts?
A: This would mean that more interconnectivity and the possibility to diversify gas supplies is welcomed by Putin, which is incorrect. Mr Cizik syas about “reviving projects from the past” – such statement probably steams from mistakenly understanding TSI as some kind of Intermarium 2.0, while these two ideas do not have anything to do with each other. “Intermarium” was Polish idea before WW2 with goal to strengthen political cooperation and security of countries of the region against Russia. TSI steams from the need of infrastructure investments. What is more, its aim is to achieve EU goals, so this is hardly divisive project. TSI is not Intermarium!
Q: What are the greatest challenges for the countries of countries in CEE region if it comes about the gas market?
A: I would say, first to ensure natural gas supplies from the new sources (like building Baltic Pipe shipping Norwegian gas to Poland and LNG terminal in Croatia). Secondly, to timely finish all the interconnectors and gas links in the region so the shipment of natural gas from the above projects (and also Southern Gas Corridor) is possible and there are no bottlenecks. No need to mention that all of the above should be completed on schedule, which in case of such big, cross-border investments is always a challenge.
Q: In mentioned analyse you wrote that the Three Seas Initiative will help to promote new gas projects. Which one and how they can be financed?
A: This should be addressed by policy-makers and business, I can give one example, where I can see investing potential. There are already projects co-financed by EU with the aim to ensure gas supplies from new sources, like Krk terminal or Southern Gas Corridor. The countries of the region will be able to buy and trade more gas via this infrastructure. However, this gas must be later shipped to the end consumers. There is potential for investments in the distribution networks and new methods of gas transport like small-scale LNG. Distribution networks, e.g. smart metering can be co-financed from EU’s “Juncker Plan”. TSI countries have not financed much projects from it yet.
Q: What is the future of the Three Seas Imitative if Nord Stream II is created?
A: Nord Stream 2 is viewed by some countries as geopolitical threat (Poland, Lithuania) or potential threat for transit fees (Czech Republic), however this will not stall Three Seas Initiative cooperation. With or without Nord Stream 2 we need gas infrastructure anyway – as mentioned, before this is not just political view but objective fact. The biggest challenge for TSI is not Nord Stream but 2 taking advantage of the momentum TSI got recently.
Interviewee: Bartosz Bieliszczuk, energy policy analyst in Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM)
Interviewer: Iwona Szatkowska, The Jagiellonian Club (Poland)
Photo: Anna Drozd (from PISM website)