"The Three Seas initiative is not an alternative to European integration processes"
Poland hopes to woo Donald Trump the businessman with new investment opportunities in eastern Europe when the U.S. president pays a whistle-stop trip to Warsaw on Thursday en route for a G20 summit in neighbouring Germany - reports Reuters.
Amid transatlantic tensions over trade, security and climate change, Poland's right-wing, eurosceptic government wants to put the focus firmly on improving business ties between the United States and ex-communist central and eastern Europe.
Trump, a wealthy businessman, will attend a gathering of the 'Three Seas' initiative, launched jointly by Poland and Croatia last year, which aims to bolster trade, energy ties and infrastructure along a north-south axis stretching from the Baltic states down to the Balkans.
The three seas are the Baltic, the Adriatic and Black Sea.
The Three Seas initiative is not an alternative to European integration processes, but is complementary to them and contributes to the renewal of the European project
Some European Union officials are sceptical about the project, which they see as an attempt by Poland - at loggerheads with Brussels on a range of issues - to build a leadership role in a region that includes the EU's poorest member states.
Trump, who has also clashed with the EU on a range of issues, is expected to promote U.S. natural gas exports in his address to about 10 leaders attending from across a region that is keen to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy.
Poland, the largest economy in the ex-communist region, received its first shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) last month at its Baltic port of Swinoujscie.
The chief executive officer of Poland's state pipeline operator GAZ-System said the Three Seas summit could give a boost to its North-South Gas Corridor project, which aims to diversify gas supplies away from Moscow.
"Political support is extremely important for such projects, it helps with their timely delivery," Tomasz Stepien told Reuters, adding that this could also help Poland tap EU funds if Brussels deems the corridor a priority.
The North-South Gas Corridor, expected to be completed in the next two-three years, will help send gas supplied from the LNG terminal in Swinoujscie and also from a planned Baltic pipeline through Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary to a new LNG terminal in Croatia.
Until now the region's main trade routes have tended to run from east to west rather than north to south, partly reflecting Germany's economic dominance - but that is starting to change.
PKP Cargo, Poland's largest rail freight firm, has a deal with Croatia's state railway cargo unit HZ Cargo and is planning other link-ups, including with Romanian ports on the Black Sea.
"Increasing transport between the ports of the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Black Sea is one of our priorities," the firm's Chief Executive Officer Maciej Libiszewski said. "I think that this region is also important for Americans who, if they wish so, will certainly be welcomed here."
Libiszewski pointed to the U.S. manufacturer of railcars, Greenbrier, which has a facility in Poland's Swidnica.
Poland's ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), has backed the construction of the 'Via Carpatia' highway, which is intended to run some 7,750-kilometres from the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda on the Baltic to the Greek city of Thessaloniki on the Aegean, passing through most countries of the region along the way.
"The aim ... is to build a communication backbone that will enable an effective and reliable flow of people and goods," Szymon Huptys, the spokesman for Poland's Infrastructure and Construction Ministry, said.
Many fewer people live along the north-south axis than along the region's east-west trade routes. This may create a challenge in convincing investors that any infrastructure project makes sense.
Asked if the Three Seas initiative could gain traction, one western European diplomat said: "We have our doubts."
But the Poles remain undaunted by the challenges, and insist the Three Seas project will help complement moves among older EU member states in western Europe towards greater integration.
"The Three Seas initiative is not an alternative to European integration processes, but is complementary to them and contributes to the renewal of the European project," Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told Reuters.
Here are some facts about the Three Seas Initiative:
- The Three Seas Initiative is a joint Polish-Croatian project, launched in 2016, with the aim of strengthening trade, infrastructure, energy and political co-operation among countries bordering the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Black Sea.
- The following 12 countries are part of the initiative: Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.
- Most of the 12 countries were in the Soviet sphere of influence after World War Two until 1989 and more than half of those joined the European Union in 2004. Nearly all are heavily reliant on Russian gas and oil imports.
- Trump plans to promote U.S. natural gas exports as part of his new "energy dominance" policy while attending the summit.
- Ten of the 12 countries have confirmed attendance at the summit. The presidents of the Czech Republic and Austria will be absent.
- Poland, the EU's largest eastern economy, has constructed a LNG terminal on its Baltic coast and is eyeing potential exports of the imported gas to other countries in the region.
- The summit's co-organiser Croatia plans to complete its own LNG terminal in 2019.
- Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, at odds with the European Commission over a range of issues including rule of law and migrant policy, has put great importance on strengthening co-operation with other countries in central and eastern Europe.
- The PiS government said the construction of the so-called Via Carpatia highway is the most important regional infrastructure project. This will connect Lithuania's port of Klaipeda with Thessaloniki in Greece, passing through eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
- Currently, there are no north-south highways in eastern Poland and most highways built so far help connect Poland with its biggest trading partner and western neighbour Germany.
- The eurozone is by far the most important trade partner for most countries in central and eastern Europe, with inter-regional trade accounting for a much smaller share.
- In the case of Poland, exports to the eurozone accounted in 2016 for 57 percent of total exports, while exports to non-eurozone EU members such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria for 23 percent.