America Can Unleash Central Europe's True Potential

Ian Brzezinski, James Jay Carafano

In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, Central Europe’s democracies have made remarkable progress. Eleven have joined the European Union and the NATO Alliance, and including North Macedonia are on track to membership. The region today is a driving force of European economic growth.

Despite this progress, a legacy of Soviet occupation continues to restrain Central Europe’s potential and undercut its security—a dearth of cross border infrastructure. 

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.

To catalyze private sector interest and investment in this effort, Poland, Romania and Estonia have launched a Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund. To date, they have committed some 620 million Euros to the fund. Other Three Seas member states are expected to make proportionate contributions. The plan is for private-sector managers to run the Fund on purely commercial terms, driven by two principal goals: invest in Three Seas region infrastructure projects and return a profit.

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