Czechs largely sidelined in Polish-led South Seas Initiative

Donald Trump (Foto: ČTK)

US president Donald Trump made headlines with his Warsaw visit and comments on NATO, Russia, and the world situation. But the purported reason for his Polish stopover was mainly economic, highlighting the benefits that deliveries of US natural gas to countries in Central and South-East Europe. The Czech Republic was part of the Warsaw get together and will have taken notes of Trump’s main points.

Donald Trump  (Foto: ČTK)
Donald Trump probably got what he wanted on his first public visit to Europe, an appreciative forum for him to make some basic points. The main takeaways were a stern warning to Russia to cease its destabilising behaviour and a clear commitment to NATO’s principle of common defence – albeit with a fresh demand that other NATO countries step up their military spending to the target 2.0 of Gross Domestic Product.

Many European countries will have liked the bit about common defence but will have been defensive about military spending. The Czech Republic had a low key presence in Warsaw, it was represented by lower house of parliament speaker Jan Hamáček. He underlined the Czech pledge to boost spending to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2020 from around 1.0 percent now and keep raising it thereafter.

Gas Tanker,  photo: Jan Arrhénborg / AGA,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The official reason for the Warsaw get together was the so-called Three Seas Initiative, a largely Polish and Croatian initiative from 2016 to try and boost economic and infrastructure links along a north-south axis from the Baltic to the Adriatic and taking in countries with shores on the Black sea as well. The Czech Republic is one of the 12 member countries.

One of the main focuses of the initiative is energy security with many of the countries heavily reliant on Russian supplied natural gas for heating and electricity generation. President Trump’s contribution to those efforts is the United States’ new status as a global energy supplier thanks to its surplus of oil and natural gas released by new technologies such as fracking. US supplies of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) started to be delivered at Poland’s new terminal just last month.

Václav Bartuška,  photo: Martin Ondřej Mach,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The Czech Republic though is a somewhat detached player as regards this regional energy security initiative, it already has diversified gas supplies with a large part of its deliveries sourced from Norway or Western European gas hubs. The country’s special representative for energy security, Václav Bartuška underlined that fundamental difference at a recent Prague conference discussion over the role of Russia and China in Europe.

ʺOnce you box yourself in the corner and say you want this much gas from one certain country then you are done, you are basically begging on your knees. If you say we want this much heat from these possible sources, be it Russia, Algeria, LNG, or others, then it is a much better situation. "

The Czech Republic is earmarked to take part in a new north-south gas corridor linking new LNG terminals in Poland and Croatia, Czech gas pipeline company NET4GAS has still to give the final go ahead for the project because it is involved in a tussle over how much the Czech state contributes for what it regards as a not very commercially attractive but costly initiative.