President Kersti Kaljulaid arriving at Monday's Three Seas Virtual Summit. Credit: Three Seas.

President Kersti Kaljulaid welcomed high-level participants in person, including the presidents of Bulgaria – taking on the baton of hosting the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) next year – and Poland, one of the driving forces behind the project, at the Kultuurikatel in the centre of the Estonian capital.

Due to the realities of the coronavirus, many other participants attended via live video-link, though another notable in-person figure was U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach, making his second trip to Tallinn in less than a month.

Moderated by Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman, an opening virtual panel brought together presidents from several of the Three Seas Region nations, who, while unable to come to Estonia, sent their warmest greetings and explained just what the 3SI means to them and their countries.

An early major highlight was undoubtedly a hugely constructive high-level discussion, in which representatives of the U.S. – in the form of Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes – and the European Commission, represented by European Commission Vice Commissioner Margarethe Vestager, laid to rest speculation of a difference of opinion between the U.S. on the one hand, and the EU and Germany on the other, over what the Three Seas Region, made up of entirely of EU member states, means going forward.

However, this laid the groundwork for three major developments whose announcements followed, which proved the 3SI has really turned a corner under Estonia’s tutelage.

First, the U.S. pledged at least $300 million towards the 3SI Investment Fund (3SIIF), making up 30 percent of the 3SIIF fund as it stands at present (i.e. €900 million, raised by partnerships between the 12 states and the private sector globally).

However, the U.S. has agreed to extend the pledge to $1 billion, making good on an earlier announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to that effect, again on the 30 percent principle, meaning as investments snowball, if the 3SI pot reaches around $3.4 billion, the Trump administration will max out on its promise.

Second, was undoubtedly Estonia’s own Smart Connectivity Vision Paper, unveiled at the summit and thoroughly picked over by an international panel moderated by CEO of Digital Nation Üllar Jaaksoo.

The vision will revolutionize smart connections across the region and beyond, making autonomous vehicles, high speed, efficient links on road, rail, at sea and even on rivers, no longer the stuff of science fiction but rather science fact, and will serve as a global hotspot for smart solutions that would both benefit a once downtrodden corner of Europe, and also be ready for export outside the region.

Continuing the tech motif which has long been Estonia’s watchword, tech giant Google will also be investing €2 million in the region, all going towards charitable enterprises in a stellar recognition of both Estonia’s and the region’s enviable, world-class digital know-how.

Other high-points include Amber Infrastructure, a London based investment manager overseeing the 3SIIF, themselves pledging €10 million to the Smart Money pot, as announced by CEO Gavin Tait at a forum on the topic on Monday.

Time was still made for informal chats too, with presidents Kaljulaid and Duda (Poland) getting together after their main events were finished to do just that.

To round off a day of success in what has been in many ways a bleak year, President Kaljulaid announced that next year’s Tallinn Digital Summit will be dedicated to Smart Connectivity and cementing steps taken in Tallinn on a wet and windy October day.