A new initiative to better integrate CEE with Western Europe

Announced in 2015 by Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, and Croatia’s President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) aims to consolidate cooperation between 12 states at the Black Sea, Adriatic Sea and Baltic Sea. The initiative is based on improving connectivity by optimising the integration of Central Europe and EU’s infrastructure, boosting trade and complementarity. Through the economic, social and political dimensions, this regional cooperation platform aims to rebalance relationships between the East and the West by eliminating the disparities that currently define the two regions.

by Pamela Luica

Officially, the initiative was created in 2016 with the signing of a joint declaration, the Dubrovnik Statement, which underlines its objectives and grounds. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary are the 12 countries which signed the Joint Statement on the Three Seas Initiative acknowledging the importance of connecting economies and the infrastructures in Central and Eastern Europe on the North – South axis to develop a single European market “considering that so far, efforts have been made to create an East – West connection”, shows the Dubrovnik Statement.
Within the statement signed as part of the second edition of the summit (in 2017), the countries said they were persuaded that the result would be beneficial for both the signatory countries and for the European Union due to an improved cooperation on the infrastructure, economic and social segments as the Three Seas Initiative’s objective was interconnectivity along the North-South and East-West axes.
“Our goal is to work on connecting our countries for the sake of the cohesion of Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community, because together we are stronger,” President Grabar-Kitarović said.

The initiative’s main goal is to eliminate disparities between EU member states through a coherent approach of the challenges raised by differences regarding the transport infrastructure, energy and telecommunications networks. Currently, these three sectors put pressure on the collaboration between countries because they constrain the dynamic growth of trade relations and, therefore, require development. Thus, the countries acknowledge the importance of intensifying cooperation in the form of this initiative focusing on supporting the allocation of investments to connecting transport, energy, infrastructure and environment protection, R&D and digital communication.
The initiative is structured on three principles: “connectivity, commerciality and complementarity” and represents the foundation of cooperation between the countries who will have to develop joint projects or have a real contribution to increasing connectivity in the region and improve integration in the European Union. The initiative promotes cross-border and macro-regional projects with strategic importance for the EU through internal cohesion, competitiveness and increasing the region’s potential in the EU-third partners report.
First of all, the initiative focuses on the rapid development of transport infrastructure and on “reaching a level similar to that in Western Europe, both elements being in conformity with EU’s growth concepts”, Poland’s President said. The initiative aims to optimise and develop transport connections to achieve integration into the TEN-T. This could be achieved through European financing, more precisely through financial instruments supporting cross-border projects which contribute to reducing differences, promoting sustainable development and meeting EU cohesion policy objectives. Funds used for projects, some of which are on the lists of the countries’ infrastructure projects, include the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the Cohesion Fund (the countries of the initiative being eligible cohesion states) or the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).
Within the initiative, the countries could use cohesion funds a lot better and more efficiently and could join efforts to implement cross-border investment projects. The Cohesion Fund is important for these countries and the development of their transport system helping these countries integrate their transport system into the European network. For 2014-2020, the total value of the Fund is EUR 63.4 billion. The fund focuses on two segments, transport and environment, and allocates financing to transport projects while prioritising the projects of European interest identified by EU and supporting infrastructure projects within CEF. It is also important that for the programming period 2021-2027, the Cohesion Policy will continue to invest in all regions, based on the three categories: less-developed, transition, more-developed, with a majority method of allocating funds based on GDP per capita (currently, CF aims at Member States whose GNI per inhabitant is less than 90 % of the EU average).
In the transport sector, the priorities of the Three Seas Initiatives include the Baltic-Adriatic Corridor, Via Carpatica road connections (linking Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece) and Via Baltica, Rail Baltica and Amber Rail Freight Corridor rail connections, as well as local governmental initiatives, such as Central European Transport Corridor or North-South Gas Corridor.
In July 2018, the President of Poland announced that the initiative entered a new development phase through the inauguration of its local and cross-border dimension: “We’re opening a new chapter of the Initiative, we inaugurate its local and cross-border dimension. (…) It is an important step in the implementation of a joint plan for the Three Seas. First of all, we wanted this cooperation to be comprehensive, to be multi-layered, so that not only presidents, heads of state took part in it, but also governments and local governments,” Andrzej Duda said.
According to a study elaborated for Croatia, over 157 major infrastructure projects (transport, energy, digitalisation) can be implemented in Central and Eastern Europe with a total cost of EUR 45 billion. Apart from stimulating the economic development of the region, these projects will raise the level of integration with the European infrastructure.

From Gdańsk to Constanta, by rail

The next summit of this initiative will be held in Bucharest, Romania, in September. The Romanian Government adopted three memorandums on the national priority projects promoted within the Three Seas Initiative and announced six projects. Apart from the establishment of digital platforms to trade transport or logistics services or digital platforms for the real-time monitoring of waters in the hydrographic basins located in the Initiative’s region or the FAIRway Danube project and development of projects in the gas transport sector, Romania also proposed a railway project for freight transport.
Rail2Sea is a project which envisages the modernisation of the railway route between Poland and Romania, on Gdansk – Constanţa axis. The objective of the project is the modernisation of railway connections for commercial use and the transport of equipment and military forces on Romania’s territory. The corridor has a total length of 3,663 km and will provide a link between Constanta Port – the shortest transport alternative from Asia to Central Europe and one of the most important distribution centres serving Central and Eastern Europe region – and Gdansk Port – a major international transport hub on the southern coast of the Baltic region which plays a key role in the shipment of freight on Corridor 1, connecting the Nordic Countries to South-East Europe.
It is also important to say that in July 2017, PKP Cargo Polish operator and Gdansk Port signed a cooperation memorandum with the Romanian railway freight transport operator CFR Marfă and Constanta Port to stimulate economic activities between Northern and Southern Europe. The agreement opens a new chapter of cooperation between the parties regarding the logistics services on the railway corridor between the two ports.
This project pertains to the Three Seas Initiative for which the development of the railway connections operated with the European transport corridors is a main factor of integration of EU member-states, especially of those from CEE and South Europe.
The agreement is an important step in the implementation of the initiative, as the potential of the countries in the region is still not used at full capacity and is expected to develop.
The Port of Gdansk has to ensure its handling capacity as, according to estimates, the port will have a handling potential of 132 million tonnes by 2027 from 40.6 million tonnes in 2017. The 2027 strategy stipulates the development of a perfectly combined infrastructure in the port and its hinterland, represented by all transport modes to ensure the fluidity of the freight flow. The port will be the most important transport hub of Great Britain and a gate for traffic outside EU to Central and Eastern Europe through its road and railway connections. In the past years, Port of Gdansk Authority focused its efforts on developing the port’s infrastructure to meet traffic needs. Also, apart from the authority’s projects, Gdansk Municipality, Maritime Office, the national infrastructure managers (road and railway), as well as private investors, implement projects that determine the extension of the port’s complex.
The estimated cost of the port investment projects developed by 2020 is EUR 2 billion.
In the railway sector, an important development project was implemented by rail infrastructure manager, PKP PLK. The first phase of the project was completed in 2016 and completion of the whole project is expected in 2020. The first phase of the project included the modernisation of the railway from Gdansk Northern Port station Pruszcz Gdanski station and the construction of a railway bridge as the most important element of railway infrastructure which provides access to the right side of the bridge, including the Outer Port. The project boosts capacity offering the possibility to provide efficient railway access services to this part of the port. A project regarding the increase of the accessibility level in Gdańsk Port, mentioned within the Operational Programme “Infrastructure and Environment”, received a European financing of over EUR 35 million of the total EUR 70 million through the Cohesion Fund. The financing supported the modernisation of line 226 in the north of Poland passing through Pruszcz Gdański to Północny Port or the north port, in Gdańsk.
Besides the modernisation of the railway, works also include the optimisation of the sections adjacent to line 721 (passing through Gdańsk Południowy and Motława Moststations), line 846 (from Wisła Most to Gdańsk Grobla) and line 965 (from Wisła Most to Gdańsk Kanał Kaszubski). The objective of the project was to improve access to the Port of Gdańsk and transport connections over Vistula, on Martwa Wisła branch (crossing Gdańsk) which forms a channel for Inner Port of Gdańsk, where freight handling and warehousing services are located, as well as container and cargo and ferry terminals. The project will consolidate the connections of Gdańsk Port and Line E65, both part of the Baltic-Adriatic Core Network Corridor, with the TEN-T network. Moreover, it will contribute to increasing cargo volumes through Gdańsk Port with 70,000 tonnes a year and the number of trains with 150 trains per day.
For the period to come, the programme of improving access to the port will focus on upgrading the railway system and adapt it to the requirements of the port and of its customers. PKP PLK will implement projects focused on the optimisation of railway access to the port, including the modernisation of Polnocny, Kanal Kaszubski and Zaspa Towarowa stations, with access to Wislane Quay.
Also, by 2020, Port of Gdańsk Authority and the Municipality of Gdańsk plan to modernise and expand the railway and road networks in Outer Port, attracting cargo flows shipped on land to this part of the port. The project will complete the investment implemented by PKP PLK regarding railway access, but also those carried out by the Directorate for National Roads and Motorways that will boost road access to the port.
Apart from these investments, the port will carry out new projects to develop access infrastructure including the extension of the channel, construction of new piers, but also the development of another area of the port in Gdansk Gulf, which could be implemented after 2020.
With a strategic location, modern infrastructure, development projects and important cooperation agreements, Constanta Port commits to adapt its infrastructure and services to meet future traffic needs. It is Romania’s main port to the Black Sea and plays an important role in freight traffic especially for the landlocked countries in Central and South-Eastern Europe.
Last year, Constanta Port signed several protocols with Ningbo Port in China, Baku Port in Azerbaijan, Alexandria Port in Egypt and Gdansk Port in Poland preparing new cargo transport routes from and to Central and Western Europe. One of the most important connections of the port is Rhine – Danube Core Network Corridor which ensures a connection on the east-west axis, between Central-European countries, connecting France and Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
The port provides direct railway access from each terminal to the national and European railway network through its own railway system with a total length of 300 km.
For the development of the port, in 2018, the Romanian Ministry of Transport issued an order for a state aid scheme focused on investments in the local, intermodal and multimodal port infrastructure. The budget of this scheme amounts to around EUR 647 million. Also, another state-aid scheme is focused on DAPhNE project – Danube ports network – carried out between 2017 and 2019. With a total budget of EUR 2.8 million, of which EUR 2.4 million are delivered through FeDR and over EUR 122,000 through IPA, the project is implemented by 23 partners from the Danube region. With the development of this programme, the authorities seek to gradually reduce the existing gaps between the 70 Danube ports along the 2,414 km of the Danube River, currently confronted with poor infrastructure and access.
Currently, Constanta Port is developing a series of development projects estimated at over EUR 1 billion, works focusing on the port’s infrastructure and providing the necessary depth of basins and channels, development of new barge terminals, new piers, the extension of the road infrastructure, modernisation of the energy system, implementation of infrastructure works for the development of terminals. Constanta Port will also implement railway infrastructure development projects.
Another project focuses on the development of the railway capacity in Constanta Sud – Agigea Port which will increase the efficiency of the loading/unloading activities and will boost the attractiveness of railway transport by taking over container traffic which has recorded a higher growth than initial estimates. According to the port’s statistical data, this prognosis requires the development of the railway system by another three lines for loading/unloading operations. This spring, Constanta Port >announced the signing of the financing through the Operational Programme Large Infrastructure (POIM) 2014-2020 of the project concerning a specialised depth berth (Berth 80).
The project also includes the extension of the railway infrastructure up to the silo park triggering an increase of railway traffic in the river-maritime sector of the port and of the country. The project is estimated at EUR 5.56 million of which the European funds cover 75% (EUR 4.1 million), the rest of 25% (over EUR 1 billion) being the state share.
Constanta Port authorities believe this project will increase the port’s attractiveness compared to those in the Black Sea Basin.
For the implementation of future projects, Constanta Port could receive EBRD financing to invest in major port projects and development plans of the Constanta National Maritime Ports Administration.

Rail freight services in the region

In the region covered by the Three Seas Initiative, the countries carry out development projects for railway freight transport by creating partnership to ensure a better freight transport and improved connections between countries.
One of the projects sustained by the initiative is Amber Rail Freight Corridor (RFC 11) for which, at the end of 2017, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary signed the memorandum of understanding to set the leadership responsible for the general objectives of the corridor and the supervision and adoption of measures necessary to the project. The corridor will be a strategic route for freight transport from the Far East, through Poland, to the Port of Koper, the traffic being ensured through the railway network of the involved countries. The route will start from Warsaw and the border between Poland and Belarus and will end in the south in Koper (Slovenia) to the border between Hungary and Serbia, connecting important industrial centres and intermodal terminals on the route.
The Baltic States are trying to further integrate their railway network and transport services. Rail Baltica project is supported by the Three Seas Initiative and contributes to delivering a railway connection between the Baltic and the European railway systems. Apart from this infrastructure project, for the development of freight transport in this area, this year, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia signed the first intermodal transport service – Amber Train – from Šeštokai transhipment station (Lithuania) to Riga (Latvia) and Paldiski terminal in Estonia, covering a distance of 650 km/h. The project can be an example of efficient collaboration between national railway companies and practical coordination between countries, thus facilitating freight traffic from Western Europe to Eastern Europe and Baltic States.
According to estimates, the project has a real development potential and companies announced that the number of services will increase from two weekly services to four weekly services. Quality and rapid services determine the attractiveness of a transport system and, consequently, the share of railway transport will be increased not just in the region, but also across Europe.
Viking Train is also one of the projects aimed to develop railway freight transport from Asia to the Baltic Sea countries. With a frequency of four weekly services, railway freight transport involves railway operators and companies from Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Sweden and Georgia. As of this year, a new service adds to the project – the transport of semitrailers for which the Lithuanian railway operator, Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai, announced they would set up the trains (including the procurement of wagons) so as to permit such a transport.
In 2017, Viking Train had a cargo volume increase of 37% compared to the previous year, the same growth percentage being also registered in the container segment (46,000 TEUs).
Set up by Lithuania and Kazakhstan, the Sun Train project also consolidates Eastern Europe’s position in the context of the freight flow between Asia and Western Europe. The train crosses a distance of 11,065 km and nine countries in 15 days with a capacity of 82 TEUs per journey.
Within the project, VPA Logistics operator provides transport services on two routes: from Kazakhstan to the Baltic Sea via Russia, Belarus and Lithuania (8 days) and from China to Belgium via Šeštokai, crossing Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
These railway freight transport services have development potential, while new projects are expected to be launched to increase traffic on railways and to consolidate the region’s contribution to continental transport services. As long as the Three Seas Initiative continues to support the extension and modernisation of transport infrastructure, especially railways, which are capable to carry more cargo without affecting the environment and with smaller costs, the railways have a potential for development since transport services are more efficient and more attractive when there are proper infrastructure conditions.

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