https://www.lrp.lt/en/press-centre/press-releases/lithuanias-energy-independence-experience-in-the-three-seas-initiative/25994

Refreshing Baltic breez

10.12.2016 | By Kazimierz Popławski

When following the debate on cooperation of the countries of the Central-Eastern Europe, focusing on the concept of Intermarium, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the debate is often a bunch of naive ideas and wishful thinking. The very center of the debate is Poland due to the fact that it is the biggest country of the region (when we exclude Germany and Ukraine of course) . Poland is the leader of the regional cooperation initiatives yet  it suffers from one weakness which may be defined as a certain blindness and incapability of recognizing the moods and interests of its neighbors. Tightening the relations with the neighbors in the Baltic Sea Region could be a refreshing breeze for both Poland and the Wider Central European cooperation.

In August this year, during the first day of the forum “Strengthening Europe: Connecting North and South” that took place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, participating countries adopted joint declaration “The Three Seas Initiative”. The seas that gave the name to the initiative are the Adriatic, the Baltic Sea and Black Sea. The initiative is supposed to tighten cooperation between 12 states that are located between shores of these seas. It is quite interesting that the name of the initiative somehow match Intermarium – the term Poland uses to call the regional cooperation. I would add one more name which would extend the borders of the region of the Central-Eastern Europe and would simplify further references – Wider Central Europe[1].

Central-Eastern Europe as an island

Both of these names turn  the region into an island. Tides that are regulating shape of its coastline are the object of  particular interests of the countries of the region. The map of the region displayed during the Dubrovnik’s forum includes all the members of the European Union from the region. There is also Austria, which is an important partner of Croatia, but its South-Eastern neighbors – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania are missing. There is no Moldova, Ukraine or Belarus. There is no Germany. I guess a map of Intermarium would comprise of similar list of countries, maybe in some versions without Romania and Bulgaria, or in different version without the Balkan or the Baltic countries.

This “inter” exists often only when it is in opposition, usually in opposition against Russia or Germany. This foundation is as fragile as changeable particular interests and the opposition . Countries of the region differ from each other in many issues, including attitudes towards neighbors from the West and the East; there are many examples of these differences: Hungary runs pragmatic politics towards Russia; Serbia see close ally in Russia ; Belarus seems to be inseparably connected with Russia. The Baltic Countries will not give up cooperation with Berlin or will nor risk good relations with Brussels in exchange of mirage of undefined cooperation and unknown benefits; and same applies to the Czech Republic[2]. Often these political differences stem from economic calculations, including trade and cooperation with Russia in the field of energy .

What is particularly difficult to find in the politics and cooperation of this „island” is values. Central Europe regularly protests and raises objections towards European politics, but rather rarely put its own ideas of solving European problems forward. Even less frequently it takes responsibility on its shoulders, when international situation needs action – usually buries its head in the sand, protests or argues, groundlessly offends or feels offended. And that often happen even between countries that comprise the region. These differences in political interests and lack of sense of responsibility make the region not even an island, but rather archipelago of small islands, some still poor, other too weak to support its neighbors.

Building bridges

Even when Central Europe would like to become an island, it needs to design and start building bridges. For both beforehand mentioned regional cooperation ideas – the Three Seas Initiative as well as Intermarium – Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas make its borders. They should rather become bridges that will prevent the region from becoming a lonely island.

Poland, due to historical reasons and experiences, is occupied with building and balancing its politics on the swaying Western-Eastern axis. Because of this there is not much spare energy and effort in the country for tightening relations with its Northern neighbors. When take a glance once again at the map of actors of the regional cooperation then it becomes obvious that the Baltic and the Nordic countries are natural extension of any of Central-Eastern European cooperation projects.

Poland rests its head by the Baltic Sea in the North, and its feet on Carpathian Mountains in the South. The Baltic breeze is light and cold, contrary to the Southern halny which is strong and warm. Same opposition could be drawn between models of conducting politics and international relations in the countries located Northwards and Southwards from Poland respectively. Poland is – with no doubts – a part of the Southern, but – even though it is a tremendous challenge – should learn to combine these two models.

There is a number of reasons why building a bridge over the Baltic Sea, connecting the Central and Northern parts of the continent, is mutually beneficial, and may even be a key to pursue and to further develop cooperation of the Wider Central Europe. There are two countries in the Baltic region that Poland should especially focus on developing close partnerships with – Germany and Sweden. Since it is rather difficult to imagine, due to its internal politics and political aspirations, present day Poland becoming the closest ally of Germany, partnering with Sweden should be an immediate goal. Strong ties with Sweden, and proper relations with Germany would translate into stronger and more attractive Central Europe.

How far the North is?

Its values that made over decades Sweden one of the most influential European country despite its unaffiliated status and demography. Diligence, pragmatisms, reliability and responsibility allow Sweden to punch over its weight; they are the source of strong position of Sweden in the European Union, close alliance with the NATO, internal wealth and attractiveness of the country to its neighbors. Poland will not become another Nordic country if would adopt some of these values, but would become an attractive regional leader for its neighbors, especially the Baltic Countries.

Poland shares with Sweden Baltic coastline and number of common interests in fields of conventional security, energy security and international relations. Sweden proved many times that Central-Eastern European affairs are important to the country. Sweden, together with other Nordic Countries, invested and supported extensively the Baltic Countries after regaining independence in the beginning of 90s, and more recently cooperated with Poland on preparing the project of the Eastern Partnership. The program initiated in Prague, Czech Republic in 2009 is a fruit of cooperation between Polish and Swedish diplomacy, and so far is the most complex agenda of the European Union enhancing its cooperation with the Eastern European countries. What is especially beneficial to the region of the CEE, most of these countries on both sides of the EU border within couple of years got involved in the program.

Also elements crucial for the CEE energy security are located in the Baltic Sea Region, and these elements in long term should guarantee energy independence and stability of the CEE region. Poland and Lithuania opened their LNG terminals in Świnoujście and Klaipėda respectively. Estonia and Finland are planning one or two another terminals. All these facilities will be supplied i.a. by Norway through Danish straights. Some of these supplies will be stored in one of the biggest regional natural gas storage in Inčukalns, Latvia. Electricity links and gas interconnectors are already connecting countries of the region or are under construction – between Poland and Lithuania, between Lithuania and Sweden, between Estonia and Finland. CEE will be economically independent only when these energy resources supply chains will be secure and uninterrupted starting in the Baltic region, ending on the shores of Adriatic and Black seas.

Same applies to transportation links – Via Baltica and Rail Baltica, Via Hanseatica, Via Carpathia connect the Baltic Region with the Central Europe and further the West and the South. They increase security, unite the region of Wider Central Europe and catalyze development of all these regions. They fulfill their important role in Europe and in the region only when they reach far behind the “shores” of Intermarium or Three Seas Initiative.

Last but not least is common understating of the conventional security and threats to the stability of the countries of the both regions – Baltic and Central European. Even though Sweden does not share border with Russia, its perception of Kremlin’s politics and threats to its security is very similar to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, so countries bordering big Eastern neighbor or its puppet states. Exactly contrary to the partners of Poland in the Visegrad group or the Balkan countries. Sweden experienced airspace violations committed by Russian aircraft. The country sees its own security in stability of the wider Baltic region.

Attractive Wider Central Europe

One of the biggest challenges project of Intermarium faces is lack of resources. Despite fast development of most of the countries of the region, they are still far behind any Western European state, they still rely on financial support of the EU and military support of the NATO. Even Poland, the biggest country of the region that every year records outstanding GDP growth numbers, is far behind German or even Russian capacities to allocate capital in strategic investments or defence, not to mention building its presence in neighboring countries.

Only economically strong leader is attractive enough to build a stable alliance. Sweden, despite its medium size in terms of population, is one of the wealthiest in Europe, most innovative in the world, and has second to Poland defence capabilities when compared to the CEE. Poland on its own, especially with its self-centered domestic politics and often confrontational foreign politics that worry its neighbors, is not enough attractive on its own to convince giving up cooperation with Berlin or loosing ties with Brussels.

Poland needs to develop partner cooperation with Germany and close partnership if wants to become a reliable partner. Once the country would become a reliable partner, it would be perceived as a strong regional leader.

As Edward Lucas put it in his article “The Dream of the Intermarium” for the Center of European Policy Analysis, “History suggests that Poland’s greatest disasters come when it overestimates its strength.”[3] Therefore Poland needs strong ally to build a strong alliance.

[1] Sławomir Dębski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, also uses this term in an interview to Poland.pl; Dębski defines it as „the Baltic, sometimes even the Nordic, V4 and Balkan countries”. “We need to rethink Europe”, http://poland.pl/politics/foreign-affairs/we-need-rethink-europe/, access: August 27th, 2016.

[2] Vít Dostál, Understanding New Polish Intermarium: Trap or Triumph for the Visegrad Group?, in: Policy Paper 3/2016, June 1016, http://www.amo.cz/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/amocz_PP_03_2016_web.pdf, access: August 27th, 2016.

[3] Edward Lucas, The Dream of the Intermarium, Center for European Policy Analysis, November 17th, 2015,  http://cepa.org/index/?id=e66afd9fc9f71473064baf06213c4858, access: August 28th, 2016.

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