“The prevailing opinion in the Czech Republic is that the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) is more of a threat than an opportunity”. – analyzes Prof. Piotr Bajda in a report for 3 Seas Initiative Insight . He explains that, in Prague’s opinion, greater participation in the initiative could lead to the loss of his position in the region or to a deterioration in his relations with Germany and the European Union.
The author of the report clearly points out that the Czech government has still not defined the importance of 3SI for its regional policy and the role the Czech Republic itself should play in this project. The political scientist describes that the initiative does not arouse any enthusiasm in practically the entire Czech political scene.
Piotr Bajda writes in the report that Miloš Zeman himself and the political circles around the Czech President – communists from KSČM and populists from the Freedom and Direct Democracy party – show little or no commitment to the 3SI project. “Even the apparently most interested presidential camp is distanced from the initiative. On President Zeman’s website, the section presenting the activities of the head of state does not even mention his participation in the last two 3SI summits, ”the analysis said.
The Czech communists from KSČM who support Zeman are even more hostile to the idea. Piotr Bajda points out that although the party refers to 3SI three times on its website, it always does so in connection with US foreign policy. The analyst notes that the group first referred to the initiative during President Donald Trump’s 2017 visit to the 3SI summit in Warsaw in July, claiming that there were “Russophobic statements in support of 3SI and Poland’s leading role” were made.
The next links are no better, because the Czech communists first write that it is a geopolitical project that “under the guise of energy security aims to distribute overpaid American liquefied petroleum gas from the Swinoujscie gas port”, to be officially announced later to confirm that they will not support 3SI because it is “an American project that aims to strengthen the US’s energy and military influence in Europe”.
SPD and Babiš’s political environment
Prof. Bajda sees a similar position in the case of the second of the pro-Russian and pro-Chinese parties, which is very popular with President Zeman. According to the analyst, the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (Svoboda a přímá demokracie, SPD) only mentioned the 3SI project once and only in relation to Czech-American relations. The text contains the group’s comment after the meeting between Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and American Secretary of State Antonio Blinken; this comment accuses the Czech government of accepting the dictates of the US in military or energy cooperation. The SPD is convinced
In the case of Adrej Babiš and his cabinet, the report’s author explains that neither the Czech Prime Minister nor the parties that make up the ruling coalition (the ANO group and the Czech Social Democrats from the ČSSD) do not devote much space to 3SI either.
The attitude of the opposition
Piotr Bajda sees a similar attitude towards the initiative among the Czech opposition. “The liberal Pirate Party does not address the issue at all, and the other opposition camp around the conservative ODS does not excel either and keeps a similar distance,” said Bajda. He notes that only one of the party leaders, Alexandr Vondra, has spoken out on the issue.
He quotes Vondra: “The 3SI is an important Polish-Romanian-Croatian project, the main objective of which is to build a north-south communication infrastructure in the interests of the entire region, since the east-west investments so far have benefited Germany and Russia in particular. The German participation in the construction of Nord Stream 2 of the 3SI gives additional impetus in response to the threat to energy security and Russia’s hybrid activities in the region. ”Bajda also mentions that the quoted politician is viewed by some commentators as a type of future foreign minister.
The Czech President’s idea found no response
As already quoted, Piotr Bajda believes that “the source of the problems in defining the attitude of the Czech Republic towards 3SI lies in the lack of definition of the role 3SI should play in Czech foreign policy. The cited Czech policy shows weakness in relation to the initiative in connection with the realization of the Oder-Elbe-Danube shipping canal based on the idea of Miloš Zeman, incidentally the only infrastructure project that has put the Czech Republic on the list of common interest ”, said Bajda.
Professor Bajda recalls that before the 3SI summit in Bucharest in 2018, the office of the Czech President sent a request to the individual ministries as to whether they would be interested in developing a list of infrastructure projects. However, it turned out that no ministry responded to Zeman and the president’s idea turned out to be the only one.
Concerns from the Czech side
The report contains an in-depth analysis of the reasons for Prague’s distance from the 3SI project. Piotr Bajda explains that Czech experts or political circles are treating the initiative as Poland’s own project, which was not discussed within the Visegrád group.
“The fears that participating in 3SI could lead to a deterioration in relations with Germany are particularly lively,” writes the 3SI expert. “Indeed, it is a kind of dogma of Czech diplomacy to pursue a non-confrontational foreign policy in relations with Berlin, especially in areas that are not treated as a priority,” adds Professor Bajda. The political scientist also notes that on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, this topic comes first in the hierarchy of importance of relations of the Czech Republic in Europe. Prague only viewed the project with a friendlier eye after the first declaration of Berlin’s accession to 3SI, ”the analyst concluded.
Relations with the United States and the EU
Piotr Bajda goes on to write that, apart from reservations about the project as an original Warsaw idea that could jeopardize Czech-German relations, some Czech commentators and experts see the initiative as an opportunity to strengthen Poland’s position in relations with the United States and strengthen the European Union. Bajda sees in the statements of Czech experts or politicians the concern that Poland’s goal is to take over the contacts between Central Europe and the United States. Warsaw would like to be the main representative of the region in relations with Washington and would thus limit the development of other capitals’ relations with the United States ”,
The text says: “For the Czechs, such a symbol was the lack of an invitation from President Miloš Zeman to the White House, while numerous invitations to meetings between Donald Trump and Andrzej Duda were issued.” At the same time, the Polish approach is seen as a wish, to use 3SI and Warsaw’s good relations with Washington to prevent the European Commission from using the procedure under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty (for serious violation of the European values mentioned in Article 2) in bilateral relations ”, explains Piotr Bajda.
The expert adds that when it comes to 3SI, the Czechs are not just concerned with the question of relations between Prague and Washington. According to Prof. Bajda, the Czechs could see potential damage to their image in relation to Europe in the project because, in their opinion, the initiative could pose a threat to a separate project vis-à-vis the EU. This concern is particularly evident with Prime Minister Babiš, whose unclear business activities are of interest to the EU control institutions (the case of the construction of the exclusive Čapí Hnízdo conference center, or stork’s nest), ”the analysis said.
Between China and Russia
According to Prof. Bajda, the reason for the lack of strong participation by the Czech Republic in 3SI also lies in the diversity of the political scene when it comes to attitudes towards China and Russia. “Part of the Czech political class would like to see Beijing as a strategic partner for the entire region (especially the presidential center, the SPD and the KSČM), while the government coalition ANO and ČSSD would like to build relations with Beijing on the basis of political pragmatism the other opposition parties see more dangers than opportunities in closer relations with China, ”said Piotr Bajda’s report.
As we read in the report, a large part of the political scene would like a warming of relations with Russia – especially the presidential center, the SPD and KSČM. Prof. Bajda recalled that the government tried to consolidate pragmatic Czech-Russian relations, but the disclosure of information about the involvement of Russian espionage services in the explosions at the ammunition depot in Vrbětice in 2014 caused a marked deterioration in relations with Putin . According to Prof. Bajda, the opposition parties are even more relentless towards Moscow, which is evident from the renaming of the square on which the Russian embassy is located to Nemtsov Square (by the ruling Prague Pirate Party).
The desire to help shape
Piotr Bajda notes that the Czechs feel more like supplicants than co-creators of 3SI. “It is therefore possible that an additional element influencing the Czech attitude is a peculiar feeling of being disregarded by Poles, that Prague is not treated as a partner,” writes the political scientist.
The report defines the current role of the Czech Republic within the project as a “cautious observer” who is “ready to be more involved in the project, provided that this does not in any way hinder Prague’s relations with Berlin and the European Commission.
However, Piotr Bajda notes that this does not always have to be the case and, as already mentioned, notes a change and an increasingly benevolent attitude from Prague towards 3SI. “Since Tomáš Petříček took over the post of Foreign Minister (he is head of the Czech Foreign Ministry from October 2018 to April 2021) and there have been signals of interest in the project from the European Commission and Germany, the Czechs have ostentatiously stopped denying 3SI” the expert notes. However, he warns against premature optimism,
Reasons for changing attitudes
However, the author of the report sees several factors that could further change the attitude of the Czech Republic towards 3SI. One of them is the fact that the initiative has bipartisan support in the United States and the Washington government is working towards 3SI. According to Piotr Bajda, this will lead to “Prague trying to declare and position itself as a country committed to regional cooperation in the hope of improving Czech-US bilateral relations.”
Ein weiteres Element, das den Stand der Dinge verändern könnte, ist die Ernennung eines Regierungsbevollmächtigten (nach polnischem Vorbild), der für die Koordination der Zusammenarbeit in der Initiative verantwortlich ist, argumentiert Professor Bajda. Er beruft sich auf Informationen hinter den Kulissen, wonach die Entscheidung über die Ernennung bereits gefallen ist und die Position an den stellvertretenden Verkehrsminister Jan Sechter vergeben werden soll.
Prof. Bajda describes that Sechter is a long-time civil servant and diplomat who, among other things, was the ambassador of the Czech Republic in Warsaw. The 3SI expert points out that “such an appointment could confirm that one of the conditions for greater Czech participation in the project is to maintain the exclusively economic character and all attempts to use 3SI politically, especially against the European Union or the Federal Republic of Germany, to be repulsed by the Czechs.
In addition, the report cites, among others, the analysis of the independent think-tank Institut pro politiku a společ-nost whose work will be managed by Jan Machacek, the signatories of the famous Charta77 and co-founder of the weekly opinion journal respect is. Prof. Bajda explains that this analysis contains a recommendation for Prague to get more involved in 3SI, because “there is a risk that the republic will fall by the wayside in the largest regional project since the EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007”.
What can Poland do?
The report not only diagnoses Prague’s current position on the 3SI project. Prof. Bajda also suggests solutions that could change the situation and encourage the Czech Republic to be more active within the initiative.
Piotra Bajda is of the opinion that the advertising campaigns in the Czech media should continue, which would reach more and more new addressees. “It would be advisable to activate the Polish-Czech forum in the area of 3SI funding, for example by calling a competition for projects carried out by NGOs or specialist institutions,” the report says. “An important gesture towards the Czech Republic would be the appointment of a representative for bilateral contacts in the new office for international politics in the office of the President of the Republic of Poland” – said Prof. Bajda.
The full report is available at this link .