“We were born in Filippi and we are going to die in Filippi but we can also die for Fllippi. If the company wants the pipeline to pass through our region, it will first have to pass over our bodies.”
- Themis Kalpakidis, farmer, Kavala
On October 18, Europe’s public banks European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) will vote on a USD 500 million loan and EUR 2 billion loan respectively to the BP led Southern Gas Corridor, a 3500 km-long system of mega-pipelines meant to bring 16 billion cubic meters of gas each year from Azerbaijan to Europe.
If the EIB’s loan goes ahead it will be the largest loan ever granted by the bank to a single project. The timing for these make-or-break loans couldn’t be worse - local resistance to the project is growing and undercover investigations such as the Global Laundromat Scandal have exposed the role bribery and corruption have played in the making of this mega gas pipeline.
The Greek section - known as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) - crosses highly fertile agricultural land in northeast Greece. Here, communities and landowners have not been consulted about the plans. We travelled to Greece in June to speak to farmers and residents about their protests and peaceful action to block the construction of the pipeline.
Walking along Greece’s majestic second city, Thessaloniki’s breathtaking waterfront, it’s easy to forget the deep economic cuts imposed by the Troika and the consequent social crisis in Greece. The pipeline is being presented as a panacea with the promise of foreign investment, jobs and cheaper energy but the reality is very different. The project is dependant on massive public support in the form of loans and subsidies and will not increase Greece gas capacity. The jobs the pipeline brings are mostly temporary but the impacts for communities along the route will be permanent.
Our journey begins in Kavala. Here, farmers fear they will lose their jobs, their land and their homes. In one case the landowner did not even know that the pipeline would pass through his property until the company showed up with diggers. Many speak about intimidation tactics by the company (TAP), the lack of government oversight and the damaging economic model being pursued.
Although monetary compensation is being offered to some farmers, many feel this is inadequate and cannot ever compensate for the irreversible and permanent change in the agricultural economy that the pipeline will create. For the farmers, this is a life or death issue and they are putting themselves in front of the bulldozers to stop construction.
In Serres, protests have erupted. A gas compressor station is also planned nearby on a floodplain and the communities' safety concerns have been ignored. The station will be close to villages and there is no emergency plan in place. Efforts demanding that the local authority hold TAP accountable have failed.
The story is the same all along the pipeline route with communities pointing to the lack of consultation and repression. In Albania, there is extensive community discontent and in Italy, local residents are standing up to the riot police violently attempting to enforce construction.
It was only last month that the Guardian’s Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation uncovered thousands of covert payments totaling £2.2bn from Azerbaijan’s ruling elite to prominent Europeans through a network of opaque British companies. Last April, an investigation published in the Italian magazine L’Espresso exposed a thick network of interconnections linking Azerbaijani oligarchs with companies close to Erdogan and to Putin. Many of the Turkish companies involved in the project were already known for their dodgy history of corruption.
The pipeline also threatens to bust through internationally agreed climate targets at a time when gas demand is declining in Europe. The EU’s State of the Union report warns against supporting infrastructure that could lead to “stranded assets’ or “carbon lock-in.” So why is this project being pushed through against the will of communities and at the expense of human rights and a safe climate? Why is the EU and its public banks showing extraordinary support for the pipeline, designating it a “project of common interest” and waiving state aid rules?
In Azerbaijan, where the mega pipeline originates, the project will allow the Aliyev regime to maintain its dictatorship – in the last 23 years the regime has siphoned $48 billion of $135 billion in state revenues from fossil fuel extraction to offshore tax havens. For the fossil fuel industry and especially BP, this pipeline and other planned infrastructure will allow them to lock in fossil fuel use for the next 40 years entrenching business as usual as the UK and Europe phase out coal. This is why the industry is pushing the myth that gas is a clean fuel necessary for the transition to renewables despite gas’ dangerous methane emissions indicating otherwise.
Powerful interests from fossil fuel corporations such as BP to the European states to public banks are pushing through this mega project against the will of communities and threatening human rights and a safe climate. These communities in Greece are at the front-line of a struggle for Europe’s energy future. On October 18, the EBRD and EIB should do the sensible thing and not approve these mega loans to this mega pipeline.
UPDATE 12/10/2017: The EBRD confirmed the board is still scheduled to vote on their loan, while the EIB confirmed they will not be voting on their loans on Oct 18.