The presidential panel at the summit of the Three Seas Initiative, which began in Ljubljana on Wednesday, was marked by calls for a move from words to action as part of this Central European cooperation project focusing on multiplying transport, energy, and digital interconnections.
The host of the meeting and moderator of the panel, Slovenian President Borut Pahor, started the discussion by pointing out that the 12 countries participating will have concrete proposals to present as the new team of the European Commission shortly takes office.
“It will be a kind of common list of goals presented and the Commission will be invited to consider them seriously,” said Pahor, who has described the summit as one of the largest political and business meetings ever held in Slovenia.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, who was one of the initiators of the Three Seas, highlighted the fast progress of the initiative since what was only an explorative first meeting in 2015. “Today we are forming the fund of the initiative which means it is becoming a truly practical initiative,” she said.
Grabar Kitarović, who said the initiative was looking to help achieve true cohesion in the whole of the EU but also beyond, “in the Atlantic space because we very much value the partnership of the US and of course of Germany, which has also become the partner of the initiative”.
While German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be joining the presidents for dinner tonight ahead of the summit tomorrow, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry participated in the panel.
Underlining that time for talk is over, Perry said that the US supported the EU and “efforts to create this energy union, to better integrate Europe in these energy markets and improve energy security”.
“It’s time for us to be taking true action … to send the message … around the globe that we are going to be working closely together. That the Three Seas Initiative member nations are ready and willing and that we are going to meet our objectives.”
He swore that the US would never use energy for political coercion, earning an applause from the audience. “It is for these reasons that we continue to oppose the North Stream 2 pipeline. The pipeline will weaken the energy security of Europe and the sovereignty of its nations, especially Ukraine.”
Noting that the 75th anniversary of liberation of Europe will be commemorated tomorrow, Perry said he could think of “few greater ways to honour the US’s commitment to defend and support freedom in Europe than continuing to work together for the betterment and prosperity of our nations and our people”.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was time to move from analysis to action and illustrated that the journey from north to south eastern Europe takes days, while in the west it takes hours, adding that this affects not only travel and tourism but also economic and social relations in this part of Europe.
It is thus key that the countries pursue coherent investment policies to overcome transportation gaps. He announced that the initiative was launching in Ljubljana the Three Seas Fund.
“Poland and Romania have inaugurated the functioning of the fund. We see it as a new sources of financing for infrastructure investments. This will be a practical dimension of the Three Seas Initiative cooperation. A tool to make our plans and dreams come true.”
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto stressed the need to come out as a winner in a what were times of turbulent global political and economic change that he felt made it fair to speak of a new world order.
Quick and common sense decisions will be key, said Szijjarto, who argued Central Europe “is and will be the engine of growth in Europe”.
Stressing the need to address infrastructure shortcomings in the region, he said energy diversification must become more than just a word, with Hungary also being very vulnerable energy-wise.
“If we cannot change this infrastructure situation, then my country will be in a position again to engage in a long-term cooperation with Russia when it comes to gas supply,” Szijjarto said.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid also noted the Commission’s support, echoing Grabar Kitarović, as well as Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. She also hailed Slovenia’s decision to bring innovation into the debate alongside the three main focuses of the initiative. She noted this was key to making transport and energy “not only competitive but also clean”.
Kaljulaid, who is also in favour of dedicating attention to environmental topics as part of the initiative, meanwhile highlighted the need to leverage the private sector. “We politicians, we can start communication … but nothing we create is durable unless you take over, then it is sustainable and durable, if you the private sectors of the initiative work together.”
Bulgarian President Radev expressed satisfaction that the meeting in Ljubljana is not attended only by heads of states but also by government representatives, agencies, business representatives and strategic partners, such as the US, represented by Perry.