/ The Three Seas Initiative and Latvia: An Attempt to Split Europe or to Complement it?

Latvia’s public interest in the Three Seas Initiative (hereinafter “TSI”) is relatively low, and the concept of a regional platform is therefore rarely discussed outside the walls of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is due not only to the fact that the TSI is still in statu nascendi, but also to prolonged turbulence in the EU’s internal and external relations. The TSI “overshadows” suspicion of Poland’s “special interests in the region” and the V4’s uncertain political (read: democratic) future. Moreover, the programme’s ability to implement ambitious projects has been questioned, taking into account the financial and political constraints imposed both by transnational relations and by the differing level of economic development in the EU’s north-south vector.

This article is divided into three parts: firstly, it analyses the creation of the platform, secondly, it reviews the rational grounds for it, and thirdly, it outlines Latvia’s opportunities under this project. Although Latvia’s involvement could be described as “active but pending”, for the time being (for the reasons outlined above), the platform definitely has positive potential, which could contribute to the “faster” connection of Latvia’s infrastructure with other EU states, bringing Eastern partners—and close partners of Latvia—closer in terms of the requirements of the EU’s acquis communautaire, as well as promoting energy security, energy efficiency, and, finally, strengthening US links on the European continent.


The Three Seas Initiative was announced in 2015, during bilateral meetings between Polish President Andrzej Duda and the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.The platform was officially “launched” on 25–26 August 2016, when Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia signed a declaration “endorsing The Three Seas Initiative as an informal platform for securing political support and decisive action on specific cross-border and macro-regional projects of strategic importance to the states involved in energy, transportation, digital communication and economic sectors in Central and Eastern Europe” during the Dubrovnik Forum in Croatia.2

The concise wording of the declaration shows that the initiative was (and still is) in its “formative stage”. However, the international focus was given to the project by the participation of US President Donald Trump at the TSI Summit in Warsaw in August 2017, emphasising the initial Euroatlantic dimension of the project. With the Bucharest Summit on 17–18 September 2018, the platform appears to have developed more concrete lines.

The Bucharest Declaration indicates that there is support from the member states for the platform, including:
1) The Three Seas Initiative Priority Interconnection Projects, the main pillars of which are transport, energy and digitalisation;

2)  The first TSI Business Forum, which gathered around 600 representatives from the platform’s member states and other EU member states, as well as from the US and third countries;

3)  Support for the establishment of the signed Joint Statement for the creation of the TSI Network of Chambers of Commerce, with the objective of providing support for the achievement of the objectives of the TSI Business Forum;3

4)  The establishment of a TSI fund that can support the implementation of various infrastructure projects through voluntary contributions from member states.

During the Bucharest Summit, the financial institution ALTUM signed a letter of intent on the establishment of the Three Seas Investment Fund, which is intended to finance significant infrastructure projects in Latvia. ALTUM is planning to contribute 20 million euros. It should be noted here that Latvia signed the letter of intent in the “first round”, along with the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia. Other member states, including Latvia’s neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, have not joined the fund. Major projects for Latvia that are currently included in the list of TSI Multilateral Priority Projects are those under the transport pillar, including Via Baltica and Rail Baltica, as well as the gas interconnector between Poland and Lithuania; within the energy pillar there is the integration and synchronisation of the Baltic States electricity systems with European networks, the development of a transportation stock exchange in the TSI region and of a digital platform for monitoring hydrographic bases in the TSI region; and within the digital pillar, there is the creation of a new economic field involving low-altitude space (U-space, via the Central European Drone Demonstrator [CEDD]), and the TSI digital marketplace.4 Although Latvia has not been nominated a leading state in any of these projects, the large number of projects in all important sectors of the TSI also indicate the state’s interest in promoting cooperation on this platform.

Because of overlap, there is potential for the TSI to develop the priority highlighted in Latvia’s various cooperation formats—such as 16+1—to promote the development of the logistics and transport sector. At the same time, it should be noted with caution that a large part of the listed “projects” are still perceived as being in the “umbrella project” idea phase, and their implementation would depend on the credibility of the overall project, the capacity to attract international donors, and the EU—in particular with regard to the Trans-European transport network policy (hereinafter “TEN-T”) and the Connecting Europe Facility—and mobilising resources at a national level.


The development of infrastructure in EU member states is directly linked to their competitiveness. The average Global Competitiveness Index of the EU-15 is 5.65; none of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe exceed this score, at only 4.02 points on average, with Romania even slipping below 3,5 points. In general, a lack of infrastructure is considered to be the reason that the business environment faces serious challenges in this region.5,6

At the same time, Central and Eastern European states have made serious progress in several categories. Overall, investment in transport and infrastructure increased significantly between 1995 and 2015.7 This has resulted in an expansion of the transport route network by 5,600 kilometres, which means that road coverage growth rates in the region are 202% faster than in the EU-15 states. At the same time, despite these indicators, the number of kilometres per capita in the “new” Europe is only approximately half the number of kilometres in the “old” Europe (i.e., 81 kilometres compared to 165 kilometres).8

The correlation between mobility and infrastructure connectivity is also topical in Brussels. Connecting Europe has been on the radar of the European Commission since 1994, through the process of initiating TEN-T. In 2013, the Commission also developed nine “core” transport corridors designed to fill the “gaps” in transport networks, thereby improving the functioning of the single market through the management of technical barriers. In the context of the TEN-T project, the most important transport corridors in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the context of the TSI, are the North Sea- Baltic Sea Corridor, the Baltic-Adriatic Sea Corridor, the Rhine-Danube Corridor, the Orient-East-Med corridor and the Mediterranean Corridor.

The European Commission views these projects as “keys” that can connect the “old” and “new” Europe, while also unlocking the new, fast-growing economies for Western markets. However, the TSI is not the only project that overlaps with the TEN-T infrastructure. Another project, the pan-European Transport Corridor, for example has the Beskyd railway tunnel, which connects south-west Ukraine with Italy. This is already the fifth pan-European transit corridor and is considered to be an important step towards improving EU mobility.

In turn, the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route is 4,766 kilometres long and is a multi-modal transport route that will connect the province of Xinjiang in China with Kazakhstan (Dostyk), Azerbaijan (Aktau), Georgia (Poti), Turkey (Alat) and Ukraine (Illichivsk). This transport corridor is especially important for countries with no sea access, i.e. the Central Asian countries. This project in particular has the potential to become one of the most important transport connections between the fast- growing Asian economies and Europe.

Although the TSI has only emerged recently, isolated long-term projects have already been implemented in the “integrated” TSI platform in order to raise its profile. Currently, the most significant project is Via Carpathia. The idea of implementing the project surfaced in 2006, when Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanian officials signed the Lancut Declaration.9 By 2010, almost all TSI member states had progressively joined the project, which became the basis for developing the platform. The project is currently planned in phases—between Klaipeda and Kaunas (Lithuania), Bialystok, Lublin, Rzeszow (Poland), Kosice (Slovakia), Miskolc, Debrecen (Hungary), Oradea, Constanta (Romania), Svilengrad (Bulgaria) and Thessaloniki (Greece).10 The declaration was only re-signed by the representatives of the states concerned on 3 March 2016 in Warsaw, with pledges to further cooperation in developing the corridor and updating the route.11

The Via Carpathia project’s infrastructure of branch routes is expected to provide the following benefits:
1) The branch routes have the potential to extend to the territory of Ukraine and Belarus. An example of this is the branch route Gdansk-Lodz-Katowice-Rzeszow- Krakow-Lviv-Ternopil-Vinnytsia-Uman-Odessa. The bilateral activities of Poland ensured Ukraine’s involvement in the project on the basis of a memorandum of understanding between the Polish Ministry of Infrastructure and Development and the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure,12 signed on 22 October 2017;

2)  Via Carpathia has become an opportunity for less-developed regions (for example, the eastern part of Poland, which has significantly lower GDP ratios than the western part) to raise the level of both cohesion and integration, reducing the level of infrastructure development for the EU;

3)  It is undeniable that the project has achieved an even stronger geopolitical dimension (which is also linked to energy independence) since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The establishment of this route will also boost investment and business growth and improve economic security in the EU as a whole, particularly with regard to the armed conflict in Ukraine.13

In the context of the project, it should be noted that Poland is currently a central player in the transport sector (and in other TSI sectors). In October 2011, following two years of consultation with EU member states, the EU published the Union Guidelines for the Development of the Trans-European Transport Network. Due to proactive Polish lobbying, Via Carpathia is currently partly incorporated into the core of this framework. This specific precedent—which incorporates the continued efforts of Poland’s current ruling party, Law and Justice (Prawo I Sprawiedliwość), at the EU level—is one of the reasons that Poland is considered to be the “leading state” of the project. However, such action by Warsaw appears rational considering Poland’s long-term transport and energy strategy in the region, which was also held by the government led by Civic Platform (Platform Obywatelska).

It is important to note that the list of Multilateral Priority Projects drawn up by the Bucharest Summit contains a number of other projects to be implemented in the future. These include the FAIRway Danube (Romania, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria), the Viking train (Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan) and the E65 North-South connection (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Sweden). This also makes it clear that the TSI has the potential to connect and “attract” third countries with ambitions to adopt (partially or fully) the EU acquis communautaire.

The energy dimension is a field where integration in the EU-11 (or the “new Europe”) is lagging behind the average EU level. The energy security of natural gas is not only related to the quality of existing infrastructure, but also to new connections, particularly in the north-south “axis”, which ensures the completion of the EU single market. Although infrastructure for oil is more resilient than natural gas infrastructure, the European Commission’s In-depth Study of European Energy Securityin 2014 identified several projects running between Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, whose interconnection could create more flexible and interchangeable oil transit in Europe.

The challenges that determine the “lowest” level of development of the EU-11 countries in terms of the competitiveness and sustainability of energy systems are related to their economic structure. The Central and Eastern European countries are more energy intensive than the EU-15—particularly in Central Europe, where the industrial sector continues to be an important component of GDP.14 For example, in 2016 the industrial sector accounted for a total of 26% of the total GDP of the EU-11, while in the EU-15 it was just 19%.15 It is equally necessary to note that the EU-11 energy mix is also important. The “new” European states rely on coal, coke, and lignite as energy sources, resulting in higher carbon use intensity. In 2016, the total consumption of solid fuels was 14% in the EU-15 and 36% in the EU-11 states. The use of lignite—solid fuel whose high CO2 emissions make it a much “dirtier” energy source—in the EU-11 amounts to 40% of the total solid fuel balance, compared to 24% used in the EU-15.16 In the context of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the EU’s agenda includes an overall economic transition for the so-called coal regions, which is linked to electricity generation, the use of renewable energy sources, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of new jobs.17,18 The “geopolitical dimension” mentioned above is particularly pertinent in the context of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Energy cooperation in the TSI member states first arose as a response to asymmetric destabilisation attempts by Russia through its “energy wars”.

One example of this is the 2004 “gas war” against Ukraine, which followed the Orange Revolution, a movement that put power into the hands of a pro-European government. Following these and similar developments, the North-South Gas Corridor was established, which connects the LNG terminal in Świnoujście Poland with Denmark (it should be mentioned that the gas supply is located in Norway) with a capacity of 10 cubic meters, assisted by the Baltic Pipe.19 The project’s main investors are national energy companies: Gaz-System S.A. in Poland, Gassco in Norway and Energinet in Denmark. The project cost estimates are around 1.6-2.2 billion euros. This project may be considered one of the first steps toward the diversification of energy resources in Eastern Europe, as its implementation also grants access to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the Krk LNG (liquified natural gas, hereinafter “LNG”) terminal in Croatia. The project could see daylight in 2022, with the additional possibility of supplying reverse gas flows.

However, the Baltic Pipe is just one part of the north-south infrastructure projects that will connect:

1) Poland with Ukraine: Hermanowice with Bliche Volytsia, with a capacity of 5 to 8 billion m3. The main investors for this project are Gaz-System S.A. in Poland and Uktranshaz in Ukraine;

2)Poland with Slovakia: Strachochina with Velke Kapusany, with a capacity of 4.7 billion m3 on the Slovak side and 5.7 billion m3 on the Polish side. The main investors here are the Slovak Eustream (83 million euros) and the Connecting Europe Facility (108 million euros); and,

3) The Czech Republic with Poland: Libhost with Kedzierdzyn-Kozle, with a capacity of 5 billion cubic meters on the Czech side and 2.5 billion m3 on the Polish side. Currently, estimates for the cost of this pipe are only approximate, and the main project funding will come from Gaz-System S.A. in Poland and Netgas in the Czech Republic.20

It is equally important to point out that Slovak and Ukrainian energy security is currently seriously threatened by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The dependence of Ukraine and Slovakia on income from gas transit, in this case, is particularly important. Slovakia’s reverse gas flows to Ukraine (amounting to around 9.8 billion m3 a year) is one reason that Ukraine managed to “get through winter” after the Euromaidan protests, despite a repeated Moscow “gas war”.21

From the perspective of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, joint and proactive action against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on the part of the European Commission, in its implementation of the Third Energy Package, is very important. It is their position against Nord Stream 2 that unites Poland and Slovakia (in the context of the TSI) and Ukraine and Belarus (outside of that context). All these states see Russia’s “asymmetric” foreign policy as an attempt to undermine their stability. The backing of the US Congress and President Trump is a reason for optimism and the TSI’s rising international profile. US involvement in the European LNG market is seen as an additional security guarantee for regional players. This is also demonstrated by the specific nature of the LNG terminals in the region: the current planned construction of the Skulte terminal in Latvia, as well as terminals in Tallinn and Paldiski in Estonia, and in Constanta in Romania.22

Finally, it is also important to mention the Polish-Lithuanian gas pipeline, which is scheduled for completion in 2021. The main investors in the project are Lithuania’s Amber Grid, Poland’s Gaz-System S.A. and the European Transport Network Executive Agency, with a total of 500 million euros. This pipeline will ensure that all three Baltic States are connected to the rest of the EU (thereby changing the perception of the Baltic States as an “energy island”).

It is important to point out that energy security is seen as a priority for the US in the Central and Eastern European region. Citing Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “An important component in the U.S. strategy is to encourage closer political and economic cooperation at the regional level, among the Allies most vulnerable to supply manipulation in Central and Eastern Europe. Lack of seriousness about the need to increase North-South infrastructure in the space between the Baltic and Black Seas has been a contributing factor to Europe’s geopolitical vulnerability in the East. We have prioritized U.S. engagement in regional groupings such as the Three Seas Initiative, Visegrad Group, Bucharest Nine, and Nordic-Baltic group as platforms for bolstering the region’s resilience against energy coercion”.23

Although the digital development vector has largely been overshadowed by the other two, at the Bucharest Summit in September 2018 digitalisation was added to the list of TSI Multilateral Priority Projects,24 thus becoming the third pillar of TSI. An additional boost for the inclusion of this thematic line for the platform was given by the European Cybersecurity Forum in Krakow, from 8–9 October 2018—the first panel discussed “The Digital Three Seas”, reiterating that Poland is currently carrying out the biggest activities in the context of TSI.25

Digital development in the region is particularly significant, considering the growing and changing regional strategies of non-regional players such as China and Russia. A large number of cyber operations and the use of psychological manipulation through digital devices has become a unifying element for not only the security environment of Central and Eastern Europe, but in Europe as a whole. Additionally, the TSI platform has the potential to promote synergies that add value to the EU, the development of the single digital market and the CEF. On top of that, it also offers more scope for cooperation with the EU and NATO. Overall, although several TSI member states have expressed interest in the development of the digital pillar, there is currently little information available on its practical use in the public sphere. With that said, the most significant contributions in the context of this pillar are considered to be:

1) The so-called “three-sea digital highway”, which could be created through the construction of optical fiber cables and 5G infrastructures from north to south, along with planned transport networks;

2) The development of cloud computing and data storage centers, or so-called “data islands”, along the full length of the digital highway;

3)The free flow of data to avoid infrastructure duplication and thus promote a knowledge-based economy, based on knowledge of data use; and,

4) A secure and efficient telecommunications infrastructure network that, in addition to automated storage and customs systems, could contribute to the development of digital trading centres near physical transport hubs.26

Although information on implemented projects is not available in the context of this pillar, it is important to note that the “List of Multilateral Priority Projects” includes projects such as the development of the Transport Exchange (including Albania and Serbia as third countries), the Smart City Forum for Central and Eastern European Countries (including Serbia) and interoperability solutions for a digitised and sustainable energy sector (including Moldova, Sweden and Germany).

Finally, it must be pointed out that the addition of the digital pillar to the TSI clearly overlaps with the US’s long-term strategy in the region. During the TSI Warsaw Summit, President Trump indicated that “The Three Seas Initiative will help your [Central and Eastern European] citizens develop, but will also ensure that your nations are sovereign, safe and free of external influence. […] When your nations are strong, all free European nations are stronger and the West becomes stronger”.27 The inclusion of the digital pillar at a Euroatlantic level (within the context of this initiative) is therefore considered to be an important step towards increasing sustainability.


The TSI often provokes debate among analysts (this is reflected in the policies of the TSI member states in the context of the platform, which varies radically in terms of the level of involvement and interest). Moreover, the “cohesion” of the various regional formats that overlap with TSI is also important for Latvia, especially considering that the platform is often associated with Poland’s “special interests” in the region (referring to the idea of Jozef Pilsudski’s [1867–1935] idea for the Intermarium Central and Eastern European Federation of States). Although Poland is currently the main driving force in terms of implementing and financing of the platform, the situation in TSI member states and on the European continent has changed drastically, particularly considering the regulatory, political and economic impacts of the EU and the US. The only seemingly constant “reference to the past” is the tension in Russia-West relations.

The priority sectors currently identified by the platform refer to two of the most important objectives. The economic aim is to improve the infrastructure and promote cohesion within the EU. All TSI member states are also members of the EU and NATO (with the exception of the “non-typical” partner Austria, which remains outside the latter organisation), and so the political aim of the initiative could be considered to be the promotion of sectoral cooperation amongst the EU’s Central and Eastern European members. Despite the presence of the EU’s overall political “crisis” on the continent, it does not currently seem that the TSI has any aspects that would split the EU—instead, the platform serves to complement it. However, the following analysis “turns a blind eye” to the political conflicts between platform members, the impact of China’s and Russia’s policies on the TSI, and the platform’s “background” objectives of ensuring and enlarging the US’s presence in the region. All these factors could have serious consequences for the platform’s future form and content.

It is undeniable that the future of the TSI is linked to the ability of the platform’s member states to overcome a series of challenges that have already arisen in the platform-building period. Firstly, external “hard” security challenges, particularly affecting the Black Sea, are causing serious headaches for countries such as Romania. The Black Sea is currently considered to be the “centre of gravity” of the TSI, taking into account both the size of the region’s population and its economic and cohesion needs, which are well above those of the initiative’s other member states. Compared to the Baltic Sea, which borders Scandinavia, there are clearly visible disparities that result in increased attention in the Black Sea region. Moreover, the region’s problems are not simply economic. The ongoing transition of political structures to a democratic governance model hinders the successful development of business environments and cross-border infrastructure networks. The nearby conflict in Ukraine, which also affects Romania’s exclusive economic zone, as well as the consolidation of authoritarianism in Turkey mean this part of the TSI (and the EU) is very possibly faced with an approaching threat. To a great extent, the geographical location of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece illustrates the complexity of the TSI member states, taking into account the various cultures and narratives (both political and economic) that encompass these countries. Various formats—including the Black Sea Economic Cooperation platform, GUAM (Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development) and the Community of Democratic Choice—have developed a number of approaches to the Black Sea region and its future.

“Soft” security aspects, which are very pertinent to Latvia, is another area that the TSI has the potential to resolve. For example, increasing digital speeds across Europe are closely linked to cyber security. The TSI’s ideological “predecessors”—projects such as the electricity supply ring for the Baltic Sea countries, Rail Baltica and Via Baltica (both currently listed as TSI priority projects), and the establishment of LNG terminals in the Baltic States, Poland and Croatia—can be considered as significant steps in addressing the Baltic States’ “island effect” and their dependency on Russian resources for imports.

Can politics be ignored? Of course, the “Visegrad Four” (hereinafter the “V4”)— alongside Slovenian, Bulgarian and other platforms, as well as the politics of EU member states—have been judged to be contradictory, and have now become the “classical” spiteful voice behind the scenes in Brussels, while also opposing the principles that were laid by the EU’s forefathers. However, given a lack of evidence for the claim that the TSI is a political project, and given that the platform’s member states would like it to become political, there is no cause for concern for the time being. An example of the abovementioned issues the “melting” of Eastern Europe and Western Europe at its core: Germany is the “gateway to the West” for the V4; in practice, for several years now trade between Germany and the V4 states has been well over the volume of trade between Germany and France (at 240 and 180 billion euros, respectively, in 2015). Therefore, there are currently no clear indications of a “hidden” political agenda (though this should never be a reason to stop exerting caution).

Heading towards the next section of this article, it should be pointed out that the TSI cannot be understood without the presence of China or without the inclusion of the US in the “picture”. From the perspective of China, TSI member states offer a stable environment with low political risk, strong legal and personal security for entrepreneurs and their employees, relatively low levels of corruption, low transport and labour costs, and a broad consumer market with growing purchasing power. The 16+1 and the TSI have similar structural platforms and mutually compatible objectives, considering the strictly economic nature of both formats (at least in their current form), emphasising economic development and interconnections. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the TSI’s founding documents contain no references that clearly indicate an objective to ensure the TSI and 16+1 are mutually compatible initiatives. Moreover, the need for and reinforcement of the US’s presence has been emphasised on several occasions at both sectoral and national levels. At a time when there is a trade war between China and the US (an agreement was reached on 2 December 2018, as a result of which the US will postpone increasing tariffs until 1 March 2019, with the agreement that China will purchase more US agricultural products; no written evidence is currently available that would ratify the content of this agreement, nor is there practical evidence of the effectiveness of this arrangement)28 involving raising tariffs, the EU and the TSI member states were in a “strange position”, where their only choice was to stick to cooperation in the context of strictly non-political formats (particularly considering that the EU has “positioned itself on China’s side” on certain issues—for example, that of US metals import tariffs in the World Trade Organisation).29 However, given the rapid changes in the international order, a progressive increase in China’s influence and presence in the region cannot be denied; at the same time, US activity attests to its growing influence in a region that has become China’s “gateway to the West”. The search for types of cooperation based on mutual principles will certainly be challenging.


Latvia, with its three non-freezing ports, its central location in the Baltic States, and its good sea and land connections, is a strategic location for the distribution of goods throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic States. Considering that the EU and China are actively working on defining transport corridors on the basis of the Belt and Road initiative and the TEN-T network, the TSI has been incorporated into the definition of the Belt and Road and TEN-T networks. Developing transport connections between EU countries is also important.

In the current context of the TSI, the following transport connections can be considered the most for Latvia:

  • The Baltic and the Adriatic Sea connection through the TEN-T North Sea-Baltic and Baltic-Adriatic Corridors.

This is considered to be the most important project in Latvia’s case. Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland are involved in the development of the North Sea-Baltic Sea Corridor. The total cost amounts to 80 billion euros, combining 5,986 kilometres of the rail network, 4,092 kilometres of road network, 16 airports, 32 ports and 17 railway stations.

It should be noted here that the Rail Baltica railway line project is of great significance, as it will allow for convenient and rapid connections between the Baltic and the Adriatic Seas—the route will cross Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, and will link to Helsinki in Finland through the port of Tallinn.

At the same time, it should be noted that Rail Baltica serves as an example of both the best and worst practices for cross-border infrastructure projects. Some examples include stakeholder management, the ability to “reach out” to the wider society, land acquisition, compensation for landowners, and the need to attract private funding, which will become especially pertinent within the framework of this project after 2020.30 However, the usefulness of this project goes beyond its practical interconnectivity functions—operational activities linked to a common procurement method, the design process, the management of stakeholders and conflict resolution methods will also become an important basis for promoting further political cooperation. This suggests that TSI offers similar opportunities as well.

  • Baltic and Black Sea connections, using existing “ZUBR” container train services

This is the container train route that connects the ports of Tallinn and Latvia to the ports of Ukraine (Odessa and Chernomorsk). This has the potential to attract new cargo from both the Caucasus and Central Asia, and from southern Turkey and northern Scandinavia.

  • The connection between the Baltic States through the services provided by the “Amber Train” container train, and the potential extension of the route towards Poland and Finland.
  • Connections from China to the Baltic Sea region through Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.The benefits of these over the next 20 years, accounting for both the dynamics of regional development and the opportunities provided by the EU, are considerable. Only one of the phases of the TEN-T network is expected to achieve significant objectives. The objectives to be achieved by the TEN-T clearly indicate the benefits of investment into road and transport infrastructure, considering in particular:1) Connecting the railway network to EU standards. In Latvia’s case, this applies not only to railway track gauge, but also to factors such as axle load, railway speed, and length. A large portion of TEN-T funding is already earmarked for projects that are mutually compatible with the TSI—including Rail Baltica, changes in the capacity of the Baltic States’ power lines, and improvements in Poland’s power lines;2)Establishing multimodal transport systems by replacing maritime routes with railways and overland routes, as well as with inland waterways and air transport;3)  Achieving an interconnection of road networks with EU road networks. According to 2014 data, the compatibility of transport infrastructure with EU standards was 8% in Latvia, 7% in Estonia and 55% in Lithuania;31

4)  Improving infrastructure connections between urban agglomerations and cities (in particular, Warsaw and Poznan [Poland], Vilnius [Lithuania] and Riga [Latvia]).32



Given that the platform is currently only in the “formative stage”, it is recommended that Latvian policy-makers take several factors into account.

1) The TSI is not a politically motivated initiative that creates new borderlines in Europe. On the contrary, it can strengthen EU cohesion and even out imbalanced development data in the East-West and North-South directions.

2)The potential to make the Baltic States “centre stage” within the North-South vector is very real, were Latvia to implement a proactive policy in the context of the initiative. It is undeniable that the policy of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions will develop in the future in terms of convergence with Latvia’s close neighbours in Scandinavia; the already developed Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel clearly shows that future opportunities created by the TSI can extend well beyond the initiative’s current member states.

3)  At the same time, it should be noted that caution and flexibility are two of the most important policy-making premises of the TSI. In all circumstances, the politicisation of the initiative should be avoided; the issue of raising funds for Latvia’s priority projects should also be addressed, particularly taking into account the Connecting Europe Facility, which will also be affected by amendments to the EU Structural Funds for 2021. The administrative resources that will be dedicated to coordinating and promoting the activities of the platform should be allocated adequately to deliver the desired results.

4)  The opportunities provided by the TSI’s energy pillar allow Latvia to fulfil its long- term strategic objectives—to ensure diversification and energy security, and to increase the US’s presence on the European continent. However, it is important to note that a new market player or product may be all it takes for Latvia to fail to solve all the problems related to the country’s energy security; a large part of the efficiency of the LNG infrastructure will depend on its rational and efficient use.

5)  Finally, the sustainability of the TSI is often called into doubt in both the press and official negotiations. Latvia’s policy-makers also have to take into account that the initiative is only a “club” composed of voluntary state initiatives and contributions, with no permanent source of funding. Additionally, considering the different regional formats, it is not clear whether the TSI will be “overtaken” by other, more capable regional initiatives.

Therefore, as Latvia strides into its 101st year, it is recommended—or desired— that Latvian policy-makers implement a policy that is representative of a mature, experienced state, based on the fundamental values of the EU.

© Latvian Institute of International Affairs, Latvian Foreign and Security Yearbook 2019


1  “Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea: Visions of Cooperation”. Introduction, 8

2  Joint Statement of the Three Seas Initiative, Dubrovnik, 25 August 2016, http://three-seas.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/DUBROVNIK.pdf

3  Joint Declaration of the Third Summit of the Three Seas Initiative, Bucharest, 17–18 September 2018,http://three-seas.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/BUCHAREST-SUMMIT-JOINT-DECLA-RATION.pdf

4  A digital platform on monitoring hydrographic bases

5  The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-competitiveness-report-2016-2017-1, pp. 67–72

6  The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, Joint Atlantic Council-PwC Report,2017, https://www.pwc.pl/pl/pdf/the-road-ahead-raport-pwc-atlantic-council.pdf, p. 9

7  Ibid.

8  The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, op. cit.

9  Via Carpathia, The Transit Route Via Carpathia, http://www.viacarpatia.eu/the-transit-route-via-carpatia

10  Tomasz Poreba, Via Carpathia – An Investment in the Future, 29 September 2011, Warsaw Insti-tute, https://warsawinstitute.org/via-carpathia-investment-future/

11  European Parliament, Report on improving the connection and accessibility of the transport infra-structure in Central and Eastern Europe, (2015/2347(INI)), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+REPORT+A8-2016-0282+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

12  Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukriane, Realization of the Via Carpatia project is a guarantee of the development of the Carpathian region of Ukraine and infrastructure integration of Ukraine – Volody-myr Omelyan, 26 June 2018, https://mtu.gov.ua/en/news/29935.html

13  Report on improving the connection and accessibility of the transport infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe, op. cit.

14  European Commission, Coal Regions in Transition, https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/oil-gas-and-coal/coal-and-other-solid-fuels

15  Central Europe Energy Partners, North-South Gas Corridor: Poland and Croatia join efforts, 11 June 2017, https://www.ceep.be/north-south-gas-corridor-poland-croatia-join-efforts/

16  European Environment Agency, Has there been absolute decoupling of economic growth from energy consumption in Europe? https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/total-primary-energy-intensity-3/assessment-1

17  Euroepan Commission, EU coal regions: opportunities and challenges ahead, https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/eu-coal-regions-opportunities-and-challenges-ahead

18  The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, op. cit., pp. 11–15

19  GAZ-SYSTEM S.A., North-South Gas Corridor, http://en.gaz-system.pl/our-investments/inte-gration-with-european-gas-tramsmission-system/north-south-gas-corridor/

20  Giorgio Cuscito, L’Impero del Centre nell’Europea di mezzo, Limes, December 2017, p. 79

21  Ibid.

22  Ibid.

23  The Kosciuszko Institute Policy Brief, The Digital 3 Seas Initiative: A Call for a Cyber Upgrade of Regional Cooperation. White Paper, https://www.globsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/WHITE_PAPER_The-Digital-3-Seas-Initiative_GLOBSEC.pdf, p. 5

24  A full list of project can be found here: Three Seas Initiative, List of Priority Interconnection Proj-ects, September 2018, http://three-seas.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/LIST-OF-PRIORITY- INTERCONNECTION-PROJECTS-2018.pdf 194

25  Cybersec: European Cybersecurity Forum, https://cybersecforum.eu/en/krakow/agenda/

26  The Digital 3 Seas Initiative: A Call for a Cyber Upgrade of Regional Cooperation. White Paper,op. cit., p. 4

27  Ibid.

28  “The US-China trade war is on hold”, Economist, 02 December 2018, https://www.economist. com/finance-and-economics/2018/12/02/the-us-china-trade-war-is-on-hold

29  “China and Europe join WTO challenge to Trump metals tariffs, opening new front in trade war”, South China Morning Post, 19 November 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/ article/2169238/china-and-europe-join-wto-challenge-trump-metals-tariffs

30  The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, op. cit., pp. 11–13

31  European Commission, “The Pillars of the TEN-T Policy”, https://ec.europa.eu/transport/ themes/infrastructure/ten-t-guidelines_en; The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, op. cit.

32  The Road Ahead: CEE Transport Infrastructure Dynamic, op. cit.

Elizabete Vizgunova 01 June 2016