The new Genoa breakwater project, positioned as a flagship initiative of the Italian Recovery Plan and backed by a commitment to provide a substantial loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB), has faced intense scrutiny. This review arises from significant concerns about its procurement process, environmental impact, technical feasibility, and economic sustainability.

The seriousness of these concerns has been significantly heightened by recent corruption scandals involving key figures, including the Governor of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, and his associates. This series of arrests includes the detention of Paolo Emilio Signorini, the former President of the Port of Genoa Authority and Extraordinary Commissioner for the Genoa breakwater. This latest revelation underlines a series of misconduct surrounding the management of the Ligurian public bodies responsible for overseeing the construction of the breakwater, and raises questions about the integrity and transparency of the whole project.

Given these grave circumstances, we urge the suspension of project funding pending thorough investigations and adherence to rigorous standards in project selection and financing by the EIB.

Procurement woes: Unveiling corruption allegations

At the core of the controversy lies a tangled network of procurement irregularities surrounding the tendering process for the new Genoa breakwater's construction. There are reports of bid manipulation and custom-tailored specifications that appear to favour specific consortia. These alarming allegations have prompted official inquiries from both national and European authorities. The Genoa Public Prosecutor's Office, alongside the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) and the Italian Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC), is delving into these claims, exposing the darker side of public administration and procurement practices. Given the gravity of these accusations, it's imperative to conduct a thorough reevaluation of the project's legitimacy and integrity.

A high environmental price to pay for navigating uncharted waters

Beyond dubious procurement, the new Genoa breakwater project faces exponential environmental challenges that overshadow its supposed benefits. The construction and expansion of port infrastructure, coupled with dredging activities, poses a serious threat to marine biodiversity, protected habitats and the fragile ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea, with violations of several EU directives and conventions, including EIB's Environmental and Social Standards.

For this reason, last year, CEE Bankwatch and ReCommon submitted a request to the European Commission to raise concerns about shortcomings in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, and the need for a more comprehensive assessment of the project's environmental impact and compliance with conservation standards.

On the other end, the new breakwater is also confronted with substantial technical uncertainties and feasibility challenges, particularly concerning the untested methodology for seabed consolidation and the unprecedented depth of construction. Engineer Piero Silva's resignation from Technical Director of RINA’s project Management Consulting contract for the work, citing technical risks and excessive expenses, amplifies the need for a comprehensive reassessment of the project's technical aspects and economic viability. This underscores the necessity to address the discrepancy between the project's goals and the wider imperatives of socio-economic resilience and sustainability through a more transparent and inclusive decision-making process.

A call for transparency and accountability

In light of the multiple challenges and controversies surrounding the new Genoa breakwater project, it is imperative that the European Investment Bank suspend funding pending thorough investigations, conduct robust stakeholder consultations, and adhere to rigorous environmental and technical standards in the selection and financing of its projects. As a regulator authority, we urge the Bank to prioritise the public interest, environmental standards and fiscal analysis of the initiatives it supports. Only through a concerted effort to address underlying concerns and rectify systemic deficiencies can the promise of sustainable development and responsible infrastructure be realised.

Photo credit: Daniela Sala, Recommon