Monday 16th May was the deadline for the start of the construction works of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) on the shores of the Apulia region, in Italy. The documents are clear: on this date the authorization awarded by the Italian authorities to the TAP Consortium to kick-off building the pipeline would expire. But on Monday nothing was happening on the ground yet, which casts shadows on the future of the pipeline.
On May 6th the company TAP Italy held a press conference announcing that they would begin construction in Italy on May 13th. Yet, as journalists and local television crews stood in the middle of olive trees on the supposed contruction site, hardly any construction staff showed up. Then on Sunday 15th, just a few hours before the limit date, a precarious plastic fence delimiting a perimeter of 20mx20m magically appeared, as a clumsy attempt to demonstrate that the TAP works actually started. For the local population, the authorities and civil society this basically means that TAP missed the deadline set by the Italian government.
The TAP is to run from Greece to Italy via Albania and is part of the Southern Gas Corridor, a series of three pipelines which have to bring gas from Azerbaijan to Italy for the European market. The project is among the top priorities of the EU’s energy security strategy but faces fierce opposition.
Such opposition is particularly visible in Italy where TAP keeps on heating the debates. Municipalities and civil society organisations are openly contesting the project. Over 40 mayors from the region have voted several motions opposing the project throughout the last years, and they are now backed by regional authorities. Among controversial impacts of the project are effects on the environment and the local economy which is mainly oriented towards tourism and agriculture. The project is facing three proceedings in front of an administrative tribunal (one by the Region, one by the Municipality of Melendugno, and one by the No TAP committee), while judicial authorities are investigating on alleged violations of national laws
Gianluca Maggiore, spokesperson of the No TAP Committee (a local citizens’ movement opposing the project) announces that: "after following every movement of the TAP consortium and consulting with the authorities in the past two months, the Committee just filed to the Technical Office of the Municipality of Melendugno the official document testifying the expiry of the Single Authorization To Build granted by the Italian government, which makes the construction works de facto illegal". This marks the beginning of what is expected to be "an exhausting legal battle with the TAP and even with the Italian Ministry of Economic Development", recipient of an official cease and desist order by the Committee, following the implementation of ad hoc procedures, exceptionally drafted to allow the realisation of the TAP project.
This complex picture further proves that, while TAP promoters carried out a communication offensive about the project being a done deal and well on track, behind the smokescreen it won’t be so easy for the TAP to see the light.
Elena Gerebizza, campaigner at the Italian NGO Re:Common: "TAP is way back with fulfilling basic preconditions in Italy. Instead it is trying to use its political leverage to begin construction without even a proper mandate from the authorities. This is a major threat to the livelihood of people, who basically still today don't know how the construction will take place and if it will truly respect the most stringent environmental and safety standards. TAP represents a threat to democracy and to the rule of law in Italy: so far every step in the authorization process was forced through exceptional measures to bypass the environmental and safety laws, and to force decisions when there was no political agreement".
Civil society across Europe is campaigning against public support to this project given the numerous violations it implies along the route of the pipeline. In January 2016, a group of 27 NGOs sent an open letter to the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) urging the Bank not to finance the Southern Gas Corridor. Indeed, the EIB considers granting the biggest loan of its history to the TAP Consortium in charge of developing the western section of the project.
Xavier Sol of Counter Balance says: "The arguments of local authorities in Italy show the incompatibility of the project with the EU’s own human rights and environmental policies. At this stage, the European Commission and the EIB seem to turn a blind eye on the concerns of affected communities. We are calling on those institutions to reconsider their support to this project which is both unnecessary and imposed".
To access the official document filed by the No TAP Committee to the Municipality of Melendugno click here.
Elena Gerebizza, Energy Campaigner Re:Common
+39 340 670 53 19
Xavier Sol, Director Counter Balance
+32 2 893 08 61