“I’m a good citizen, I have always paid taxes. But if you take away food from my children’s mouth, then you’ll find me in the streets,” a Greek farmer from Kavala was telling a local police officer over the phone on one October morning when Re:Common campaigners were visiting the prvince.
Not far from there, members of a farmers association in Greece’s northern Kavala province circled bulldozers of JP Avax, one of two companies who are to build the Greek section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
On 6 October, these bulldozers entered private land not far from the village of Libra, Kavala, without its owner, a local farmer, aware that the pipeline was planned to cross his property. He was just about to plant a new orchard.
Outraged to find bulldozers on his property, the farmer pressed charges against JP Avax for damages and trespassing on private property, enlisting the support of the local association.
Since the lawsuit was filed about a month ago, an uncertain standoff has emerged. The machines are still, their operators idle, and the site is guarded both by company security and the local farmers.
A few kilometres away in Doxato, a municipality of 15 000, pipes have been placed without prior notice on land owned by the municipality. The mayor of Doxato, Dimitris Dalakakis, asked JP Avax to remove them.
When we met Dalakakis he said that the company had accessed the land without authorisation. In fact, the consultations on the pipeline route in the area did not even mention it would go through this land.
Dalakakis has long battled both the Greek government and the TAP company, demanding changes to the pipeline route through other properties in the municipality.
One of the places where the pipe is meant to cross has already been slated for a waste treatment plant for which the municipality has been able to secure EU funding. “It is absurd that the pipeline would cross right there,” he told us upset.
The TAP project has been a controversial issue in Greece for some time now, pitting the residents of the Macedonia East and Thrace region against Alexis Tsipras’s government.
Far from the capital Athens, the region already hosts other pipelines delivering gas from Russia. Now the local residents found themselves battling another project, this time one coveted by both the European Commission and the Greek government, fearing it would leave a permanent scar on the region’s mostly agricultural economy.
Construction is currently at an early stage in Kavala, with the nearby village of Neos Skopos planned to host a 100 MW pressurising station.
But the local communities remain defiant. Over the past years the farmer association of Kavala and the Anti-TAP Citizen Committee of Neos Skopos-Seres have emerged as the key opposition groups protesting the project.
The first demonstrations against TAP took place about four years ago, as the deliberations about the project’s environmental impact assessment began.
While politicians promoted TAP as a project that would help Europe, and Greece, break energy dependency on Russia, Greeks were sceptical and have grown even more so as the Tsipras administration tightens Greek relations with Russia.
Farmers and other opponents of the project now ask what is the real motivation behind TAP? And why should the pipeline scar Greece’s most fertile and productive agricultural region?
The environmental impact assessment, critics stress, should have considered alternatives. The Kavala Technical Chamber has suggested several other options, including re-routing the pipeline so it passes further to the north, closer to the mountains and away from the agricultural fields.
Opponents of the project have raised these questions with the ruling party SYRIZA during the elections campaign, but could not get any satisfactory answers.
In September 2015, after a year and a half of meetings with the Ministry of Environment, the negotiations were suddenly closed. “There is no time,” ministry officials told the farmers and citizen committees. “We can’t delay the project further, we will return to the initial option”.
Feeling betrayed by the Tsipras government, the protesters realised they have to keep resisting the project, determined to prevent the pipeline from passing through their land.
The sit-in by the bulldozers is one way. Local farmers have also filed a formal complaint to the European Investment Bank, the EU’s house bank that is currently considering a EUR 2 billion loan to build the pipeline.
Compalints were also sent to the bank by some of the farmers and land owners in neighbouring Albania, where the TAP pipeline conitnues on its way to Italy, who have been facing very similar issues with the project. (A separate story on the situation in Albania will be published in the coming days.)
In the cradle of democracy, the Greek government appears keen to stifle legitimate public protest against the EU’s largest energy infrastructure project. Throughout our week-long visit to Greece, together with the Italian No TAP Committee, the Greek secret police tailed us 24 hours a day, wherever we went. When civil society is considered by state authorities as a threat, whose interests are they protecting?
Read more about the TAP gas pipeline and other sections of the Southern Gas Corridor on the Bankwatch website.