Our Analytics 10 september — 15:28

Who is behind protests against Azerbaijani gas in Italy? (Our analytics)

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BY MAMMAD EFENDIYEV

A new wave of protests is rising in Italy against the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline project (TAP) to transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe, including Italy. While Azerbaijan is getting ready for laying the foundation of the first project on gas transportation to Europe, TANAP, Italy is preparing for a march of protest against TAP.

Who and why remembered Azerbaijan in Salento?

Quoting Italian sources, Azeri Daily reports that, despite this project’s lobbying in Italy by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, currently adviser to Shahdeniz Consortium  for Azerbaijani gas transportation to Europe, demands to change TAP route are still in progress. The problem is that a part of the pipeline is to traverse the province of Salento located on the Adriatic coast of Italy. However, local residents and ecologists point out that the construction of the export gas pipeline in the area will damage environment and endanger historical monuments and destroy olive gardens.

The Italian press reports on the coming up action of protest against the TAP project. On September 20, a group of protesters is going to start their march against the gas pipeline in the region of Lido San Bazilo to advance along 8 km road to Melandigno,  where the pipeline is to get to the sea. The action starts at 17:00 local time. The protesters will go on foot and bicycles; those incapable of joining the march will attend a meeting to take place at 18:00, Pertini square.

Apparently, the date of the action is not accidental. A ceremony of pipeline TANAP foundation laying will be held on September 20 in Baku. Note that TANAP is one of the two mega-projects to transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe. Attending the ceremony will be President Of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi and representatives of other member-countries of the project.

It should be noted that similar protests against TAP are long underway, and once they already led to the pipeline route diversion. Initially it was designed to lead the 3200 km gas pipeline to the town of Brindisi in the Italian province of Apulia. However, protests made the TAP consortium to lay the pipeline to the seacoast near the sparsely populated settlement of Melendigno.

However, environmentalists noted that rerouting would not save Apulia from danger with its two historical monuments inscribed on the UNESCO list. In the meanwhile, the consortium denies allegations that the pipeline threatens a local drinking water pipeline.

Other critics say that the gas pipeline will have a destructive effect on habitat of the rare animal - Mediterranean monk seal. In reply, the consortium stated that construction work on the seaside would be suspended in summertime when the seals mate. Also, ТАР designers promise to transplant olive trees owned by 150 families. However, ecologists are protesting against this as saying that some trees are aged 2,000 and their transfer to another place may ruin them.

Who lights the stars?

ТАР notes that local population’s discontent is intentionally stirred up, while in fact a greater part of the population does not think that the construction of the gas pipeline will damage environment; instead gas prices in Italy will go down. This notwithstanding, a serious problem is how to agree this issue between the consortium and olive tree owners.

Obviously, someone is engaged in setting ordinary Italians against ТАР and the Azerbaijani gas as a whole. The point is that the project has long been coordinated with the Italian government and local authorities, especially as its effectiveness for the country is unquestionable. But some forces are eager to put new obstacles on the path of the gas route by bringing senseless charges against the project.

At one time ВP-Azerbaijan company was laying the BTC route across Azerbaijan and Georgia. There were forces, which wanted to impede this project as well; however, large land compensations to local residents and municipalities, delicate handling with historical monuments and compliance with ecological standards nullified efforts of project opponents. At that time everybody knew who opposed the project. But now?

Perspective efficiency of TANAP and TAP is evident. More than others, Europe is greatly interested in these projects’ implementation. Interests of Azerbaijan, like all other project’s member-countries, including Italy, are clear. But it is still disadvantageous for somebody, isn’t?

Yes, as it was in the 1990s, it goes against interests of Russian and its gas giant Gazprom. Its Southern stream project is a real competitor to TAP, which is going to deliver Azerbaijani gas to Europe earlier than Southern stream does with the Russian gas. After Azerbaijani gas comes to this European region, where Italy as the largest country, interest in the Russian gas will appreciably drop.

Even worse, Gazprom will be in no position to dictate its conditions and prices as it traditionally does at the European market. For this reason the Russian gas giant launched an open struggle for its Southern stream by disturbing governments of some countries and even the Euro-commission.

How can Azerbaijan oppose it?

The Shah-Deniz Consortium hired Tony Blair to resolve issues in Italy. He has good connections in Italy, but the local press notes that lobbying the TAP project by former Prime Minister excites anger of local olive farmers. The very lobbying itself causes a great number of questions.

In the middle of the last month Italian press wrote that Tony Blair, adviser to the consortium on transportation of Azerbaijani gas from Shah-Deniz deposit, was negotiating about Azerbaijan in Sicily. He was staying in Lipari, at a villa of Massimo Carello, Italian billionaire  and industrialist. British journalists wrote sarcastically that while bloody fighting against the terrorist organisation ISIL was underway in Iraq, and everyone was busy trying to achieve peace in the Middle East, Тony Blair, who was appointed a special envoy for the Middle East, locked himself up in Sicily.

'Blair has no time for the crisis. He availed himself of the chance to have a fine holiday for free,' they wrote. People familiar with Blair allege that he is skilful in combining business with pleasure. After he took a rest with his glamour wife Jerry and sailed on a 10 million pounds worth cutter along the Sicilian coast, Blair considered it necessary to start talks in Italy about the transportation of Azerbaijani gas by means of TAP gas pipeline. The British press stated that Blair was to finish his Azerbaijani mission in Sicily and resolve yet-undecided and disputable transportation issues. However, even despite his oversized salary, he failed to settle problems he was supposed to.

To all appearance, Gazprom had less eminent, but more skilful lobbyists. However, TAP as a perspective project cannot fail due to a couple of discontented Italian provincials. As soon as they see solid cash, they are sure to immediately forget about 'irreverent attitude to nature and historical monuments.'  Yet, project opponents are able to drag out its implementation. Suffice it to recall Georgia where BTC project was delayed for a year. The most important question today is how long can they drag it out?

The time is now the principal means of struggle for the competitors – Gazprom and SOCAR, in their fight for the European market. He who gains time, shall first deliver his gas to Europe. But who will win – Azerbaijan or Russia?

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