Apulia, the easternmost region of Italy some sites of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, became the major obstacle to the further construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). For the record, ecologists and residents of the region’s seaside towns Brindisi and Melendugno have been holding protests since 2014, drawing from the views of 40 experts who had pointed to the technical gaps in the project. According to the organization ‘Comitato No TAP’, the construction of the pipeline was planned through the territory of an olive grove with 231 ancient (2000+ y.o.) olive trees in it. First, the constructors were going to dig up the old trees along with the soil, lay the pipeline under them, and then plant the olive trees back. But experts say the ancient trees will not withstand such treatment. Apart from the ancient grove, the process of pipeline construction can do harm to other 10 thousand olive trees in the region, as well as bring damage to underwater caves, dozens of beaches and ruins of medieval castles and buildings.
The story would hardly have a happy ending but for the president of Apulia, Michele Emiliano, who supported the position of local residents and ecologists and refused to issue any of construction permits to the TAP consortium. In 2016, the TAP consortium has even replaced its manager in Italy to give a boost to the negotiation process, but it didn’t work. Emiliano boldly set himself against the former Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi, who in his turn has actively been lobbying for the implementation of the TAP project. After all, it came as far as in Rome they decided to limit the powers of regions getting thus an option to giving green light to large-scale construction projects without any region’s consent. So, on December 4, 2016, a referendum on constitutional reform in Italy was held but fortunately for Apulia the vote failed and the region retained its ability to veto the TAP. It is worth noting that here Apulia actually deserves its opinion to be respected more than any other region does, as it is Apulia that ranks first in the country for production of wine, harvesting of olives, and it also produces 40% of all olive oil in Italy. In his resistance to the government and transnational corporations, Emiliano makes it clear to the EU leadership how necessary it is to reckon with the interests of every particular European region.
The construction of the pipeline in Apulia was planned to start in November 2016, so the TAP organizers steadily increased pressure on the Italian authorities and wanted to get Emiliano’s permission by all means. For example, in early February 2017, Lecce judge confirmed the legitimacy of the activities of the Ministry of Economic Development of Italy regarding the construction of TAP and did not investigate into the non-compliance with Seveso II directive regulations during the preparatory construction works in the area of San Foca in May 2016. Despite this, the ‘Comitato No TAP’ activists with Emiliano’s support have called for continuation of the struggle and stressed that the pipeline designers still do not take into account the evaluation of its impact on the environment while the disregard for safety measures during the preparatory works in San Foca only emphasizes the possibility of further violations. Emiliano understands that the TAP construction along with its possible man-made effects would certainly harm the environment and the region’s seaside towns’ tourism image, which in its turn would dramatically affect the economic and social situation in Southern Italy. Moreover, Emiliano is obviously staying ready to provide evidence of external lobbyists’ influence on the decision of the European Commission on the TAP construction, providing thus a hope to make the project completely illegal and putting an end to the works planned in Brindisi and Melendugno.