In a summit in Bucharest, Greece became the 13th (naturally) member of the obscure Three Sea Initiative. Ukraine and Moldova are expected to be granted partner status.
The Three Seas are the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic. The membership represents a crosscut of central and east European EU “new” members (the 2004 wave of EU enlargement): Austria (the only veteran EU member), Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
It is the second incarnation of “Intermarium”, a failed Polish initiative in the 1930s. That was an attempt to create an anti-Stalin and anti-Hitler block and it failed because the appeal of both Nazism and Communism proved too seductive.
In 2015, Poland and Croatia teamed up to revive the moribund idea of a central European ballast. In the first summit in Dubrovnik in 2016, the emphasis was on infrastructure, every politician’s favorite.
It took only a year for the USA and Germany to pounce on the new alignment and “bear hug” it.
In the summits in Warsaw in 2017 and in Bucharest the year after, Germany made its wish to get “more involved” loud and clear. The USA suggested a “closer cooperation”. An investment fund was set up as a carrot. The stick was all too obvious.
The Initiative is a talk shop centered around economic growth, development, and cooperation, It is supported by the United States, the European Commission, Germany, and assorted Western multilateral.
The foci are energy, transport, and digital infrastructure. But the real agenda is to create a mostly southern and eastern counterweight to the northern hard core of the EU. The Initiative is a reification of the divisions within the EU between an old and a new Europe.
The dreaded dependence on Russian energy and its potential for geopolitical blackmail spurred the more anti-Russian members to diverge from the likes of a “neutral” Germany.
But money talks. The unhappy members of the Three Seas Initiative represent less than one-tenth of the EU’s GDP. Their leverage is laughable.
This asymmetry resulted in the escalated politicization of the Initiative. Russia’s brutal mauling of Ukraine prompted a rethink of the “only EU members” original mandate. Hence the partnership status is conferred on Russia’s current victim (Ukraine) and its potential future target (Moldova).
Forums like the Three Seas Initiative are bound to proliferate in the wake of Brexit and the invasion of Ukraine. Both cataclysmic events exposed irremediable fissures in the EU. Recent elections in the likes of Slovakia confirm this drift away from common values and geopolitical loyalty to the West.
The EU is imploding glacially but perceptibly. Attempts by the USA and Germany to stronglyarm members into compliance will backfire: witness the recent expansion of BRICS to include Iran, among others.
The truth is that the EU tsunami of enlargement failed to create a great tent. Instead, they brought into sharp relief axiological incompatibilities and adversarial self-interests of the various members, old and new.
The Three Seas Initiative is an act of protest combined with a hurried and perfunctory reaction to mounting anxieties. It does not bode well for the future of the EU – or of the declining civilization of the West.