The United States and the North-South Corridor

The United States and the North-South Corridor

Building a Europe whole, free, and undivided has long been a guiding priority of the relationship between the United States and the European Union.  While much progress has been made, particularly through the process of EU enlargement, Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe remain economically divided, lacking the infrastructural connectivity necessary to create single European market.  

For this reason, the construction of a North-South Corridor of strategic communications lines linking the Baltic to the Adriatic and Black seas, should be elevated as a priority of the US-EU agenda.

That is a principal recommendation of a joint study by the Atlantic Council and Central Europe Energy Partners, “Completing Europe: From the North-South Corridor to Energy, Transportation, and Telecommunications Union” (the report is available on the CEEP’s website). Led by Paweł Olechnowicz, Chairman of CEEP’s Board of Directors, and former US National Security Advisor James Jones, the report surveyed the current state of economic infrastructure linking the nations of Central and Eastern Europe together and that region with the broader European economy.

Their study underscored how incomplete the process of European economic integration remains today.  In Central and Eastern Europe, national networks of railroads, power lines, highways, pipelines and other communications links remain largely disconnected from each other and from Western Europe. This is “an unhealed legacy of half-a century of Soviet led development, during which disinterest in such intra-regional connections kept these lands dependent on Moscow.”  (James Jones and Pawel Olechnowicz, “Completing Europe: The North-South Corridor,” The Hill, November 21, 2014)
[Tweet "North-South Corridor of energy pipelines remains one of the most urgent requirements to be fulfilled"]
Jones and Olechnowicz conclude that a North-South Corridor of energy pipelines, transportation routes and telecommunication links remains one of the most urgent requirements to be fulfilled if the goal of single European market is to be achieved.  It would bind Central Europe’s economies more tightly, and by crossing key East-West corridor would integrate the region and Western Europe. Spurs from the North-South Corridor would ensure that the Baltic States, the Balkans, as well as Moldova and Ukraine, are part of this integrated space.

Moreover, this economic backbone would enhance European energy security.  Its connection to liquid natural gas terminals on the Polish and Croatian coasts would allow the entirety of Central Europe to tap into the growing global LNG market, thereby helping Europe to further diversify its sources of energy.

The more efficient flow of goods and services north and south and east and west would enhance not just Central Europe’s economic competitiveness and resilience, but that of the entirety of Europe.  And the efficiencies provided by integration would contribute to the achievement of Europe’s carbon emission goals.

The Completing Europe study and its conclusions are particularly timely. Moscow’s use of energy cut-offs as part of its aggression against Ukraine gives added urgency to the issue of European energy security.   Europe’s sustained economic crisis makes clear that infrastructure investment needs to be part of a concerted effort to stimulate the European economy in the near term and to build the foundation for longer-term economic growth.

Completing Europe estimates that 50 billion Euros of public and private investment will be needed to complete its vision of North-South energy, transportation, and telecommunications links.  This is just over 15% of the 300 billion Euro infrastructure plan being rolled out by the new European Commission.  That proportion of the investment plan is well justified light of the economic and geopolitical returns it promises.

The study’s chairmen, a Polish executive and an a former United States national security advisor, embody its transatlantic perspective. They assert that the North-South Corridor should be given higher priority in the US-EU relationship.  Indeed, a Europe that is economically integrated and thereby more prosperous and resilient is a Europe that is a more capable partner for Washington.

It is on this rational that energy security has long been a focus of the U.S.-EU agenda. The US-EU Energy Council was created in large to part to address the challenges of energy diversification and infrastructure.  The important diplomatic role the United States played in promoting the Southern Corridor, a set of gas pipelines that will soon bring Caspian Gas to European markets, is the most prominent example of how US-EU collaboration has contributed to a geo-strategically significant project.

[Tweet "The US can also contribute to the commercial viability of the corridor’s energy dimensions"]Washington’s diplomacy can play a similar role in the North-South Corridor.  It can assist European parties come to consensus over difficult decisions of budgetary prioritization that will be necessary to drive this project forward. The United States can also contribute to the commercial viability of the corridor’s energy dimensions by liberalizing the restrictions that impede the export of its energy resources to Europe, including LNG.
Last month the European Council reaffirmed that the North-South Corridor’s energy links stand among its critical infrastructure projects. However, while the U.S. and the EU have worked together on elements of this corridor, such as the LNG terminal proposed in Croatia and specific gas interconnectors, the corridor as a whole has yet to emerge as a formally articulated focus of U.S.-EU councils.  It would be useful to have the corridor addressed in its entirety so as to more effectively serve the regional geopolitical interests at stake.

When addressing the vision of a Europe whole, free, and secure, one often thinks – and should think  - first of values and borders. The Completing Europe study reminds us that it also requires infrastructure: the pipe- and power-lines, roads and railways, and telecommunication links that bind communities, nations and regions together.   It is for this reason, the North-South Corridor needs to be elevated as the next step in completing Europe.

Ian Brzezinski is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He and David Koranyi, Director of the Council’s Eurasian Energy Futures Initiative, served as Directors of the Completing Europe study.