When it comes to securing energy supply, human rights principles are easily set aside it seems as EU leaders will be attending the signing ceremony of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) in Azerbaijan tomorrow.
Citizens of Azerbaijan will today be treated to the presence of four high profile European politicians in their country. Greek Prime minister Antonis Samaras, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Italian Under Secretary of State Marta Dassù and EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger are the first high profile European Politician visiting Azerbaijan since Ilham Aliyev’s internationally condemned re-election as President earlier this year.
The pipeline agreement will see two trillion cubic meters of gas pumped from Azerbaijan to Europe. TAP is a key part of the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline, which would move 16bn cubic meters per year of offshore gas from the coast of Azerbaijan to Southern Italy.
This ceremony will make Europe the primary consumer of Azerbaijani gas for at least the next 35 years. It was recently announced that the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, which would move gas under the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan to Europe, is on the list of European Energy Projects of Common Interest. These projects are earmarked to receive €5.85 billion of public money between them.
The TAP provides a transport route for gas going around Russia. But to decrease its dependence on Russian gas, Europe will become more dependent on a regime openly violating human rights. When choosing between a rock and a hard place, Europe clearly goes for the latter. The consequences for both Azerbaijani and European citizens are huge but have never been put to question.
lham Aliyev became president of Azerbaijan in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar – who had been in power since 1993. Aliyev’s rule was entrenched by the signing of what was dubbed ‘the contract of century’ in 1994. This brought 11 corporations, including BP as the operating company, into a consortium to extract oil from the Caspian Sea. It also gave the Aliyev family vast wealth and important international allies, and freed them from reliance on citizens’ taxes. As such, there was little incentive for Aliyev to listen to people’s voices, respect their interests or create any form of democracy. Since 2009 the rate of oil extraction has declined from its peak of 800,000 barrels per day in 2009 to 660,000 barrels per day now. This means that the Aliyev’s will be reliant on gas income to maintain their repressive grip over Azerbaijan.
Even before their arrival, the politician’s trip has been heavily criticized coming so soon after the controversy of the Azerbaijani Presidential elections. The observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) found there were widespread violations during the election and concluded it fell far short of international standards.
And the violations weren’t just confined to election day. In the eighteen months running up to the elections the Azeri authorities conducted what Human Rights Watch called “a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent”. According to the Human Rights Club of Baku, who have conducted extensive research, there were 142 political prisoners behind bars on election day, two of whom were expected to be Presidential candidates until their incarceration forced them to withdraw . Since the election the number has remained the same. The Azerbaijan authorities use false charges to arrest many of these prisoners, including possession of narcotics and weapons, as well as hooliganism.
Azerbaijani activists have taken to twitter to call for Europe’s politicians not to put energy deals before human rights. Former Azerbaijani Political Prisoner and eminent writer, Emin Milli tweeted at William Hague: “As a former prisoner of conscience I wonder if you will talk with Aliyev @presidentaz only about oil/gas deals? I expect more”. A letter from UK and Azerbaijani campaigners and journalists has been sent to the UK Foreign Secretary calling on him not to attend the TAP signing ceremony and questions about the trip are being tabled in the Italian and UK parliament’s.
It is not just in Azerbaijan that people are speaking out against Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline. This is a huge piece of infrastructure that will primarily benefit oil and gas companies. For European citizens, the pipeline will mean increased gas imports which energy regulators have stated will lead to higher energy bills. Yet it is apparent that our politicians are spending significant amounts of time and using public money to support the pipeline. Large portions of the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline are likely to be funded through the controversial European projects bond initiative, which sees citizen’s money being used to underwrite private profits. The first project to be financed through this scheme was the Castor plant in Spain, when this was hit with technical difficulties it was Spanish citizens who were left to foot the bill8.
In addition to the financial implications this huge pipeline will crash our carbon targets by locking Europe into fossil fuel dependency for at least the next 30 years and putting over a billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2048. People living along the route are likely to find their livelihoods and landscapes under threat. This is of particular concern in the beautiful coastal region of Puglia in Southern Italy where agriculture, tourism and fishing are the main economic activities.
The legal contracts for the pipeline are already been negotiated and ratified. It appears that in many places there interests of the pipeline will be prioritised over those of people. For example, in Greece the legal agreement ensures that new environmental regulations introduced by the Greek government will not be allowed to interfere with the profitability of the pipeline.
Communities along the pipeline route are finding common cause with the people of Azerbaijan speaking out against this giant piece of infrastructure. In Italy the NO Tap committee in Melendugno, Puglia organised an alternative environmental and social impact assessment, employing a dozen of experts they discovered the pipeline traverses seismic areas and that the pipeline mysteriously ends 50km before the Italian distribution network begins.
Once again a significant diplomatic subsidy is being provided to corporations as four senior politicians attend this deal between private energy companies. In the process European decision makers will make the continent further reliant on undemocratic regimes for its power and entrench an energy infrastructure that puts Europe’s energy demands at odds with people’s demands for democracy, affordable energy and an inhabitable planet.