From Bankwatch Mail

The hiring of former British prime minister Tony Blair to advise a BP-led consortium pushing forward with plans to pump Caspian gas from Azerbaijan to Europe has bumped the 'Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline' (ECMP) into western media coverage and lead to criticism of yet another unsavoury Blair consultancy.

While the gas pipeline infrastructure is far from ready, and is in fact already meeting with community oppositon, the non-engineering infrastructure required to manage and realise ECMP (estimated overall price tag of USD 45 billion) is now rapidly falling into place – undoubtedly because the project promoters, including multinational oil companies and a range of governments, are anticipating trouble.

A mid-July report in the Financial Times first broke the news of Blair's appointment to the Southern Corridor Advisory Panel that BP and its partners have felt it necessary to establish in order to “advise on political, environmental, reputational and societal challenges that may be faced by the Shah Deniz 2, TANAP and TAP projects during their early years”

Shah Deniz 2 is the massive Azeri gas field in the Caspian that is set to be exploited, with TANAP (the Trans-Anatolian pipeline to be constructed from one side of Turkey to the other) and TAP (the Trans-Adriatic pipeline set to cross Greece, Albania and the Adriatic sea before landing in the Puglia region of south-east Italy) the two distinct pipelines that comprise the ECMP. Citing a person close to the Shad Deniz 2 project, the FT article notes that Blair's hiring will bring his “political and business experience – especially in dealing with EU institutions” for an overall project that is “likely to run into a multitude of regulatory and environmental hurdles”.

Such regulatory, environmental and – moreover – community resistance hurdles are already manifesting themselves in Italy, the projected site for the final leg of the TAP pipeline. Preparatory work for TAP in Italy has been underway for over three years, and a range of questions, mixed with public anger, about the rigour being applied in these preparations is now dogging the project.

Puglia's administration has officially rejected the pipeline at the regional level, and the operating company is having to re-do the project's environmental impact assessment after communities living by the proposed route, along with 40 experts, produced a damning report that outlines how the pipeline would cause damage to their land, water and sea. Questions have been raised about TAP's sea crossing from Albania to Italy, where the pipeline will cross a major seismic area in the Adriatic. With two UNESCO world heritage sites located in Puglia, it is a sensitive region, and concerns are also being voiced about the TAP project's likely impacts on its two key economic interests: olive farming and tourism.

Elena Gerebizza of the Italian NGO Re:Common points out: “In Italy people are refusing the TAP project and the arrogance of those that want to impose it over their heads, and literally in their centuries-old olive groves. Tony Blair is standing against these communities. He is standing for financial and economic interests that have nothing to do with so-called Europen energy security. This is very clear to those opposing the TAP pipeline, a project that people consider to be harmful and useless. This is not the kind of project that European public institutions such as the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development should be financing with public money.”

A long-expected declaration of interest in providing finance for TAP duly emerged from the EBRD in early July, with the bank's director for energy, Riccardo Puliti, publicly indicating to the top Italian news agency ANSA that the EBRD will invest “EUR 600-700 million” in the TAP project.

In an opinion article published last year, Kjetil Tungland, managing director of TAP (a company incorporated in the Swiss tax haven of Baar), claimed that “TAP requires no government subsidies, no EU grants and no contributions from the European taxpayer, a key attribute in times when public budgets are under pressure.” As EBRD finance is based on capital provided by its shareholders (namely international governments that stump up public, taxpayer-derived money), Tungland's denials about tapping publicly generated, corporate subsidies are likely to invite further scrutiny.

And it's not only people in Italy who are opposed to the pipeline. In Azerbaijan people are speaking out about it because it will entrench the autocratic Aliyev regime.

According to Emma Hughes of London-based NGO Platform:

“Blair, BP and a violent dictator in Baku, it's a familiar combination. While Blair gets rich from this disastrous pipeline it is people living along the route who will suffer the impacts, all the way from Azerbaijan to Italy. In the past week, two brilliant Azeri activists, Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov, have been arrested on false charges. It is people like these that Blair is standing against.”

Democracy activist Rasul Jafarov was arrested and detained in Baku on August 2. Jafarov has been charged with tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and power abuse, the same falsified charges that have also seen independent Azeri election monitor Anar Mammadli jailed for five and a half years. Jafarov’s arrest follows the recent charging and jailing of prominent human rights campaigner Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif for high treason.

A Free Rasul Jafarov Facebook page has been set up, and provides information about Jafarov's work and regular updates on his detainment and case.

Find out more

Re:Common has posted ten reasons to say no to the TAP project, available in English here.