Greece a promising member of the Three Seas Initiative?
The states of the Three Seas Initiative are interested in expanding the association and attracting new members. Greece can become a promising newcomer to the Initiative. Why this country could be interesting for the states of Central and Eastern Europe?
The development of an integration association is impossible without the intensification of cooperation between its members and the expansion of the number of new members. As for the Three Seas Initiative, the past 2020 year was marked by the intensified cooperation between its participants. This resulted in increased funding for the joint fund of the association.
However, the issue of geographical expansion of the Initiative remains unresolved. Greece could complement the union well. First, this Balkan country, like other members of the Initiative, is a part of the European Union, which simplifies the interaction between them. And secondly, the accession of Greece could be an additional stimulus for the development of the Three Seas Initiative and its transformation into the Four Seas association.
Roads and railways
Regarding the participants of the Three Seas Initiative, some countries are already showing interest in more active cooperation with Greece. Back in 2006, Poland proposed a project to build the Via Carpatia motorway from Lithuania to Hungary along the eastern border. Four years later, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece joined the initiative. The road project itself was extended to the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
At the same time, the Austrian company Rail Cargo Group is developing railway logistics in Greece. In 2014, the Austrians founded Goldair, the country’s first open-access rail freight operator. Two years ago, the Greek subsidiary of the Rail Cargo Group started to carry goods in Greece. Moreover, Goldair is engaged in setting up supply chains from or to Greece.
Bulgaria is particularly interested in Greece joining the Three Seas Initiative. First of all, due to pipeline transport and Greek LNG terminals. “To enlarge the scope of our security, we should look beyond our geographical borders and take advantage of the potential of our neighbours and partners. What do I mean? Lines of communication, transport corridors, gas networks, they neither begin nor end at our borders, “said the President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev at the Three Seas Initiative Summit, which took place in Tallinn in October 2020.
Moreover, Bulgaria is highly interested in cooperation with Greece in the gas sector. This is not surprising, since Greece has two LNG terminals and Bulgaria none. The Southern Gas Corridor will also pass through its territory. Bulgaria is very interested in taking advantage of these opportunities, especially given the fact that neighbouring Greece could become a major supplier of natural gas. “There are large deposits of natural gas in the East Mediterranean. That makes Greece and Cyprus our natural partners. I have recently talked to leaders of those countries and they are highly interested in our activities. And we should find a way to involve them in our Initiative,” added the Bulgarian president at the mentioned event.
Greece is also increasingly becoming an important hub for Chinese interests in Europe. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the investments in the Port of Piraeus. The Chinese company COSCO Shipping is the largest shareholder of the Greek port (it owns 67 per cent of the shares). Last year, Ocean Rail Logistics, also part of COSCO Shipping, acquired a 60 per cent stake in Piraeus Europe Asia Rail Logistics (PEARL). Among other things, it organises container trains from the Port of Piraeus to the Central and Eastern European countries, namely to Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Czechia and Slovakia. Moreover, the Chinese are financing the modernisation of the Belgrade-Budapest railway. In the future, this project will be extended to the Greek border.
If all plans are implemented, China will be able to establish and control a strong logistics chain in Central and Eastern Europe. By the way, the Chinese have already understood the importance of Greece for the region and invited Athens to join the “16+1” initiative (Central and Eastern European countries and China), which eventually became “17+1”. Why not apply this experience for the Three Seas Initiative?