Protests in southern Italy have delayed plans for construction of a vast natural-gas pipeline into Europe.

Residents of the Puglia region of southern Italy have long campaigned against Italy’s section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline or TAP (featured in Agenda, NI 496), a controversial megaproject that has been dubbed ‘Europe’s own Keystone XL’.

Campaigners say the $40-billion pipeline will lock European countries into fossil-fuel use for decades. Italians have other pressing concerns. They fear that their section of the 3,500-kilometre long pipeline – which stretches from Azerbaijan and enters Europe via the seaside town of San Foca – will cause significant damage to the landscape and coastline, and the loss of livelihoods.

The village of Melendugno has become a flashpoint. In March, workmen started to remove ancient olive trees in order to construct the pipeline, without permits having been issued for the work to begin. When hundreds gathered at the site to resist construction peacefully, the Italian government sent police to enforce the uprooting and removal of the trees.

In response, residents quickly organized public meetings that drew crowds of thousands. Protests started to make national headlines and international news. Over the course of the month, among sit-ins, barricades, last-minute court orders and appeals, close to 200 trees were removed.

Protestors report that work will now be delayed until November, as olive trees now go through a period of growth and cannot be removed. Locals claim this delay as a significant blow to the megaproject.

They are determined to stop the pipeline altogether. Their message is for no TAP, ‘né qui né altrove’ (‘not here or anywhere’).

The pipeline’s troubles are not confined to Italy, where corruption scandals are currently making their way through the courts. Critics point out that the gas corridor would also bind the EU to the repressive regime of Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan, the source-country for the pipeline’s natural gas.

The situation in Azerbaijan, whose autocracy is propped up by oil and gas revenues, shows no sign of improving – the country was expelled in March from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative over fresh concerns about limits on civic freedoms.

En route to Europe through Turkey, the pipeline crosses unstable Kurdish regions that have seen an escalation of violence following the collapse of peace talks between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in July 2015.

Along sections of the route in Albania and Greece, farmers say they have not been adequately consulted or compensated.

Sarah Shoraka