Western Europe boasts a spider-web of roads, highways, railroads, canals and pipelines. They span borders and have been crucial to trade and economic growth. But Central Europe’s main cross-border infrastructure remains limited to a few east-west transit routes and pipelines. There are no major north-south economic corridors. Consequently, the region operates like a set of islands with limited connectivity and economic inefficiency.
In 2016, Central European presidents decided to confront this challenge head-on. They launched the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) to accelerate the development of cross border energy, transport, and digital infrastructure in the region between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia—all are involved.
The initiative aims to spur economic growth, reinforce economic resiliency and energy security, and deepen regional connectivity—including with Western Europe. If successful, it can do as much for Central Europe—indeed for Europe as a whole—as membership in the European Union and the NATO Alliance. The formerly opened markets and generated regulatory consistency beneficial to trade, while the latter provided the security essential to democracy and freedom. Infrastructure is the hardwire essential to complete the vision of an undivided, secure, free and prosperous Europe.
Central Europe is once again a zone of Great Power competition. Russia exercises a full spectrum of economic, political and military capacities to undermine the sovereignty and Western orientation of Central European nations. China uses its considerable financial heft to tie Central Europe’s infrastructure into its Belt and Road initiative.