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Sunday, November 27, 2022

The perception of the Three Seas Initiative in the German press

By Małgorzata Rzymkowska

In 2015, a network of twelve EU countries between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea was established: Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary are members of the so -called three -Measures Initiative.

The aim is to raise awareness of the economic and infrastructural interests of the participating countries in order to further develop the relatively weak infrastructure in the CEE region. The potential of the countries that make up the Three Seas Initiative is enormous, as they comprise 28% of the area of the European Union and around 22% of its population, but only generate 10% of European GDP. On the other hand, these countries are the most dynamically developing part of the EU and had the highest economic growth in the EU before the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic: up to 3.5%, while the EU average was 2.1% lies [ 1].

The establishment of the Three Seas Initiative initially met with little interest in Germany [2]. Although there were fears among politicians, businessmen and the general public that an attempt would be made to create further division within the European Union and to counterbalance Germany and France, which were leaders within the community, these were not very high intensive. It was not until US President Donald Trump appeared as a special guest at the second summit of the initiative in Warsaw in 2017 that the vigilance of German diplomats was awakened [3]. At that time, there were a number of skeptical or even negative comments about the Three Seas Initiative in the German press and media.

The initiative itself is not criticized in the German press in the narrower sense, but as a form of an alternative vision of the European Union that was not agreed with the states that have formed the community since it was founded in the 1950s. An initiative that contradicts the German vision of Central Europe. It is therefore not clearly perceived negatively as an action directed against the interests of the EU and Germany, but rather as a search for a faster development path and a change in the previous dominance in the area of Europe’s economic infrastructure from a horizontal to a balanced horizontal-vertical.

The Three Seas Initiative in the context of the European Union

All countries participating in the Three Seas Initiative are members of the European Union. The purpose of this project is to build a coherent and integrated infrastructure in Central Europe, which would make it possible to compensate for the historical economic backwardness of the region. In principle, it is a pro-European initiative that does not interfere in any way with the existing forms of European cooperation. However, many German commentators see this as a threat to the cohesion of the European Union.

According to an article in Die Welt, some politicians in Brussels and Berlin see the Three Seas Initiative as an attempt to create parallel structures within the EU [4]. Germany fears the emergence of new divisions and the deepening of existing differences, which are particularly visible in the areas of migration policy and energy policy of the EU. The countries of the Visegrád group, which are among the fiercest opponents of EU migration policy, belong to the Three Seas Initiative. The situation is similar with energy policy and a serious dispute between Germany and the eastern EU member states, which, with the support of the USA, are resisting the construction of the Baltic Sea pipeline “Nord Stream 2”, on the grounds that

According to the German press, the most important event for the Three Seas Initiative was Donald Trump’s visit to Warsaw in June 2017. It preceded the G20 summit in Hamburg, at which Angela Merkel tried to form the strongest possible coalition to defend the Paris Agreement on climate change and thus emission restrictions. Donald Trump then courted the new EU and NATO member states in Eastern Europe, not least in Poland. He brought back memories of 2003, when the then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of an old and a new Europe on the eve of Iraq. At that time, most of the Western European countries refused to take part in the armed conflict,

The German government and Chancellor Angela Merkel showed up, according to the newspaper Die Zeitconcerned about Donald Trump’s “appearance in Poland” [7] due to the decision of the US Senate, which two weeks before Trump’s visit to Poland decided on further economic sanctions against the Russian Federation. The US Senate described the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as harmful to European security and instead recommended American deliveries of LNG via Poland and Croatia. Contrary to the fears of the Merkel government, the US President’s speech in Warsaw had no economic and political, but above all a historical and identitary dimension in the context of the centuries-old axiological and military alliance between the American and Polish nations. That did not change the basic assessment of the Polish-American alliance,

Poland’s role in the Three Seas Initiative

German commentators believe that the roots of the Three Seas Initiative and Poland’s role in this political endeavor have historical roots. The initiative itself is an externalization of Poland’s foreign and geopolitical policies for centuries. “Intermorze” is an old dream of the Polish conservatives. (…) Józef Piłsudski was the first to dream of Międzymorze. Now Andrzej Duda is trying to make this old dream come true, and the Three Seas Initiative was born ”[8]. It is a very superficial vision of history that shows myopia in a pure twentieth century perspective. The Polish public sees the Three Seas Initiative as a return to the Jagiellonian concept of the 15th and 16th centuries.

According to the journalists of ” Zeit ” The nostalgic idea of a regional alliance of Poland has turned into a concept of political and economic cooperation in the region. On the other hand, Donald Trump breathed new life into the Polish dream of the Euro-Mediterranean region and “awakened bad memories in Europe” [9]. To put it bluntly, the German media suggest a departure from the current status quo and the possibility of building a new order within a united Europe in which Germany will no longer be the hegemon and Poland, with its partners, will become an alternative power. At a time when the EU is beginning to raise hopes among the people in its member states as a stable factor for development and peace,

According to George Soroka, Poland is not only aiming for a regional leadership role through the Three Seas Initiative, but also protects the entire region from renewed political and energetic dependence on the Russian Federation [10].

The role of Germany in the Three Seas Initiative

During the Bucharest summit of the countries of the Three Seas Initiative, which took place in August 2018, Germany expressed its willingness to join the initiative. This step by the German government came as a surprise, because up until now the German side had expressed skepticism about the initiative of the Central European countries, such as journalists from Süddeutche Zeitung [ 11] and Tagesschau [12] emphasized. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who attended the Bucharest summit at the invitation of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, said Germany wanted to strengthen its relations with its eastern neighbors and send a clear signal that it was not only concerned with relations with Western European countries [ 13].So he announced a new Ostpolitik, referring to the famous speech by the German Chancellor Will Brandt. He represented Germany’s role as a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Europe [14].

Germany wants to join the Three Seas Initiative in order to be able to actively participate in the discussion of its eastern neighbors. In his speech, Minister Heiko Maas argued that Germany’s desire to join the initiative was not only for geographic reasons, but also for political, historical and economic reasons. He found that East Germany went through a similar path of transformation after reunification as many Eastern European countries [15]. In addition, the Federal Republic of Germany is the central economic partner for every member state of the Three Seas Initiative within the European Union. Germany’s membership would draw the attention of western and southern EU member states to the needs of their eastern partners, Maas emphasized.

In the next year Germany will continue its policy of supporting the initiative in the east of the EU. The German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take part in the Three Seas Initiative’s national summit in June 2019 in Ljubljana. The German press commenting on the event points out that Central and Eastern Europe has recently become an arena of competition for the influence of the great powers: the European Union, Russia, the US and China. For the USA, Russia and China, infrastructure policy means not only innovation and modernization, but also the implementation of foreign and security policy [17]. This is the Three Seas Initiative, like Kai-Olaf Lang,

Politicians from the two most important German parties, the CDU and the SPD, have spoken out about the Three Seas Initiative and the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The CDU member of the Bundestag Roderich Kiesewetter draws the following conclusion from the dispute over the gas pipeline: “That was a clear signal to also discuss national projects that are considered economic with the EU partners beforehand. Unfortunately, this option was not used in advance in order to prevent the emergence of mistrust. The dispute over Nord Stream 2 clearly showed how important energy policy is for EU cohesion ”. Dietmar Nietan, SPD member of the Bundestag and chairman of the board of the German-Polish Society, shared this opinion: “For us it should primarily be aboutto satisfy the interests of the countries of the Three Seas Initiative and to find joint opportunities for cooperation. This applies to contentious issues such as migration and energy policy, but also to other areas.

In summary, it can be said that Germany, as a country with strong economic ties to the countries of the Three Seas Initiative, no longer wants to stand outside. “We don’t just want to watch,” says Kai-Olaf Lang. “We know that infrastructure projects also have a foreign policy dimension” [20].

The future of the Three Seas Initiative

In that perspective, one should ask what US participation in the Three Seas Initiative will look like after Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. According to the German media, Biden is the most pro-European President of the United States since George HW Bush. He shaped his political views during the tenure of President John F. Kennedy, and his statements testify to his solidarity with the transatlantic alliance and the principles associated with it. The basis of these principles is the international order, which means freedom. These ideals made American foreign policy successful for decades after World War II. Biden has been known to the European political elite for years,especially through his vice presidency at the side of Barack Obama. Its foreign policy will be a continuation of the American transatlantic policy [21].

According to the Merkur portal  , a new transatlantic agreement could look like the United States return to a rules-based system and commit to leadership in partnership with the world’s major democracies, starting with Europe. The voice resonates with resentment about President Donald Trump and his foreign policy, who is accused of a lack of real partnership and even arrogance on the part of the US in its relations with Western Europe. Mercury points to the need for active US consultation as a basis for joint transatlantic decisions. That means accepting NATO, supporting the European Union and adapting relations to current challenges.

Joe Biden’s tenure as US President could mean increased US-EU cooperation, the main imperative of which will be the desire to stop the aggressive policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This can be done by stabilizing relations, seeking cooperation and promoting civil society in Russia. MercuryJournalists stress that the most important item on the agenda should be to weaken Putin in his attempt to use energy as a political lever. Here they pay particular attention to the importance of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is seriously affecting relations between the USA and Germany. Hence the US interest in developing energy investments under the Three Seas Initiative [22]. This could mean that despite the departure of President Donald Trump, the Three Seas Initiative can be continued by mutual agreement with the new administration of Joe Biden and the German government. The common denominator remains the fear of Putin’s imperial Russia policy.

[1] Monika Sieradzka: The Three Seas Initiative gets a tailwind from America, in: Deutsche Welle, October 19, 2020 , www.dw.com/de/drei-meere-initiative-bekommen-rückwind-aus- Amerika / a‑ 55298517 [Accessed December 17, 2020].

[2] Cf. Christopher Hasselbach, Rosalia Romaniec: Berlin evaluates three seas initiative, in: Deutsche Welle, June 5, 2019, www.dw.com/de/berlin-wertet-drei-meere-initiative-auf/a ‑49063402 [accessed December 17, 2020].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Boris Kalnoky: How Donald Trump wants to divide Europe, in Die Welt, July 6th, 2017, www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article166320555/Wie-Donald-Trump-Europa-spalten-will.html?cid = onsite .onsitesearch [accessed December 19, 2020]

[5] Cf. Trump plays with Europe, in: Der Tagesspiegel, June 12, 2017, www.tagesschau.de/ausland/drei-meere-initiative-101.html [accessed December 20, 2020].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Matthias Krupa: Trump ensnares the Poles, in Die Zeit, June 28, 2017, www.zeit.de/2017/27/drei-meere-initiative-donald-trump-polen [accessed December 19, 2020].

[8] Cf. Matthias Krupa: Trump ensnares the Poles, in: Die Zeit, June 28, 2017, www.zeit.de/2017/27/drei-meere-initiative-donald-trump-polen [accessed December 19, 2020].

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. George Soroka: What Poland sees in the Three Seas Initiative, publication by the Center for International and Eastern European Studies, July 17, 2019 , www.zois-berlin.de/publikationen/zois-spotlight-2019/was- poland-in- the-three-seas-initiative-sees / [accessed on 21.12.2020].

[11] See Daniel Brössler: Suddenly there, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 18, 2018, www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/diplomatie-auf-einmal-doch-dabei‑1.4135211 [accessed on September 19 , 2020 ].

[12] Cf. Maas conjures up “new Ostpolitik”, in Tagesschau, September 18 , 2018, www.tagesschau.de/ausland/drei-meere-initiative-101.html [accessed September 19, 2020].

[13] Cf. Daniel Brössler: Suddenly there, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 18, 2018, www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/diplomatie-auf-einmal-doch-dabei‑1.4135211 [accessed on 19.09.2020].

[14] Cf. Maas conjures up “new Ostpolitik”, in Tagesschau, September 18 , 2018, www.tagesschau.de/ausland/drei-meere-initiative-101.html [accessed September 19, 2020].

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Cf. Kai-Olaf Lang: Tracks, Pipelines, Motorways: The New Geopolitics of Infrastructures in the Eastern Part of the EU, in SWP-Aktuell, No. March 17, 2020, www.swp-berlin.org/10.18449/2020A17 / [Accessed December 20, 2020].

[18] Christopher Hasselbach, Rosalia Romaniec: Berlin is upgrading the Three Seas Initiative, in Deutsche Welle, June 5, 2019, www.dw.com/de/berlin-wertet-drei-meere-initiative-auf/a‑49063402 [ Accessed December 17, 2020].

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Daniel Fried, Benjamin Haddad: Biden and Europe know each other, but that’s not enough – What has to happen now, in: Merkur.de, www.merkur.de/politik/usa-trump-biden-europa-nato-aussenpolitik -defense-future-eu-china-russia-foreign-policy-90122898.html [accessed December 19, 2020].

[22] Ibid.

Source: Trimarium.pl / UME


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