Former British prime minister Tony Blair is to meet Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to discuss environmental controversies that could threaten the construction of the last leg of interconnected Southern Gas Corridor (SCG) pipelines that are to deliver Azerbaijani gas to Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel underscored the importance to Europe’s gas diversification plans of the SCG infrastructure—which is to carry gas from Azerbaijan’s giant Shah Deniz 2 field to San Foca, near Puglia in southern Italy via Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and a route under the Adriatic Sea—during her late August tour of the South Caucasus region.
Blair will journey to Rome to lobby the far-right minister because the governing Italian coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Salvini’s League is divided on the merits of the final SCG section, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the Guardian reported on September 3. In July, Salvini said he would support the pipeline project, claiming it would help drive down gas prices in Italy. “The south of Italy needs infrastructure,’’ he said. “We need to move forward.’’
A few days later, Barbara Lezzi, the M5S minister for the south, responded, saying: “We do need infrastructure: we need roads, schools, train stations.” She suggested that building the pipeline would be a useless and harmful exercise. But Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of M5S, said: “The party has not changed its mind over the building of the pipeline.’’
Italian environmentalists claim the Puglia area, which has two Unesco world heritage sites, will suffer as a result of the pipeline. There are fears—dismissed by the consortium building TAP—that the pipeline will contaminate freshwater supplies. Activists have also claimed a beach will be turned into a building site, threatening the habitat of Mediterranean monk seals.
Blair has worked as a consultant on TAP since 2014.
He has reduced his commercial lobbying since heading up his new Institute for Global Change, a movement dedicated to opposing populism and its causes.
It is estimated that the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan has gas reserves of 1.2tn cubic metres and the EU is expecting to receive 1.2m cubic metres per day via the SCG.