Civil society has a fundamental role in strengthening the resilience of the Three Seas region

Civil society has a fundamental role in strengthening the resilience of the Three Seas region

Last weekend, on 20 and 21 May 2022, the Civil Society Forum of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) took place in Riga for the first time, and was opened by H. E. Egils Levits, the President of the Republic of Latvia. The purpose of the Civil Society Forum is to provide a unique platform for the exchange of new ideas, social dialogues, and knowledge between civil society actors from the participating 3SI Member States.

In his opening speech, President Levits emphasised that: “The Three Seas Initiative has a unique guiding principle: it is politically inspired and commercially driven. Various cross-border infrastructure projects have already been submitted for funding, envisaging energy, transport and digital connections between the North and South of our countries and their neighbours”. President Levits also suggested that since the aim of the Three Seas Initiative is to develop our region through improving connectivity, this should also be extended to connections between people. He added, “the activities of civil society play a critical role in this Initiative. The ideas and recommendations achieved by this forum will be reported to a number of political and business leaders at the Three Seas Initiative Summit and Business Forum in Riga next month. Therefore, the Civil Society Forum has the potential to become a new and lasting tradition of the Three Seas Initiative.”

The participants of the 3SI Civil Society Forum were also addressed by Evika Silina, Parliamentary Secretary of the Prime Minister of Latvia; Tiit Riisalo, Ambassador-at-Large for Connectivity and the 3SI from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Janusz Pietkiewicz, member of the European Economic and Social Committee; and Edgars Bondars, Ambassador-at-Large for the 3SI from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia; along with a number of other politicians, diplomats, experts, and NGO representatives who engaged in discussions concerning connectivity, digitalisation, security and governance in the Three Seas region.

Strengthening and improving connectivity in the Three Seas region sits at the core of the 3SI’s priorities. Current geopolitical events emphasise the need to reinforce the region’s resilience in sectors such as energy, digitalisation, health, and public fortitude. These sectors will not only define our ability to cope with the geopolitical challenges we are currently facing, but will also ensure the region’s future growth and development. This point was highlighted by Evika Silina, Parliamentary Secretary of the Prime Minister of Latvia: “The decisions we make today will affect future decades. The difficult geopolitical situation is transforming the way in which we approach our priorities: the importance of creating close cooperation between our countries and our civil society demands for independence from Russia’s energy sources in the future. We need to focus on regional synchronisation going forward and energy is one of the main priorities in this area.”

When addressing questions on the ways in which the Three Seas region can better engage civil society, Tiit Riisalo, Ambassador-at-Large for Connectivity and the 3SI from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, suggested that the resilience of the countries in this region is increasing not only against the ongoing war, but also in terms of Western market economics. “Nevertheless, in these times we must go back to basics. It all comes down to trust and partnerships, and civil society has the most important role of all in this respect”, said Mr. Riisalo.

“The Three Seas region has a common identity of being forward thinking, open minded, and prepared for the digital developments that are to come. Civil society, therefore, has a significant role to play in further developing the identity of this region”, added Edgars Bondars, Ambassador-at-Large for the 3SI from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia.

However, to strengthen the role of civil society even further, it is important to increase the Initiative’s visibility and engagement—particularly with regard to NGOs. “The role of civil society and social dialogue must be promoted as issues of necessary discussion”, confirmed Janusz Pietkiewicz, member of the European Economic and Social Committee.

In her concluding remarks, Žaneta Ozoliņa, Head of the Board of the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LATO), emphasised that: “The success of the Three Seas region lies in the ability of three stakeholders—policy makers, businesses, and civil society—to cooperate closely. When those stakeholders come together, a breakthrough in building a new regional identity will be achieved.”

The 3SI Civil Society Forum was organised by the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LATO) in cooperation with the Chancellery of the President of Latvia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia. The main partner of the conference is the Central European analysis and media platform, Visegrad Insight.