Tony Blair to meet Salvini to discuss Trans Adriatic Pipeline
Ex-British PM and Italian interior minister will discuss plans to extend gas pipeline
The Italian far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, will meet the former British prime minister Tony Blair in Rome to discuss controversial plans to extend a gas pipeline that will run from Azerbaijan to Puglia in southern Italy.
Blair has worked as a consultant on the Trans Adriatic Pipeline since 2014, which is the pet project of Azerbaijan’s strongman president, Ilham Aliyev.
Blair’s office did not offer any direct comment on the reason for the meeting, but Salvini said he was willing to hear from Blair on the pipeline, and other issues.
Blair’s strong views on the dangers of populism make him an unlikely choice to persuade Salvini of the value of the pipeline.
Blair has toned down his commercial lobbying since heading up his new Institute for Global Change, a movement dedicated to combating populism and its causes. He said in a recent speech that the simplistic solutions provided by rampant nationalism of the kind advocated by Salvini’s League could lead to a return to 1930s fascism.
The governing Italian coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League is divided on the gas pipeline issue. In July, Salvini said he would support the pipeline project, claiming it would help drive down gas prices in Italy, where there was little competition in the energy market. “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,” but suggested that the building of the pipeline would be useless and harmful. 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 Puglia, which has two Unesco world heritage sites, will suffer as a result of the pipeline. There are fears – refuted by the consortium – that the pipeline will contaminate freshwater supplies.
Activists say a beach will be turned into a building site, threatening the habitat of the local Mediterranean monk seals.
Interest in the pipeline has been on the rise as opposition grows in Europe to the plans for the larger Russian-backed alternative gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which would take gas from Russia to Germany, possibly bypassing Russia’s regional rival Ukraine.
Many countries, including Poland, the US and UK, are fiercely opposed to Nord Stream 2, arguing it will strengthen Russia’s influence in Europe, weaken Ukraine’s finances and entrench the power of Russian gas in the European energy mix.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has come under growing criticism for supporting the pipeline and insisting it has no broader security consequences.
The Trans Adriatic Pipeline, taking gas from Azerbaijan to Italy, would run through Greece and Albania. Although it is dwarfed by the size of Nord Stream 2, it helps fulfil European commission calls for a more diversified supply of gas for Europe.
Merkel, responding to international political criticism of her support for Nord Stream 2, last month visited Azerbaijan in a bid to show she was committed to diversifying energy supplies to Europe.
t 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 from the pipeline.
Although Blair and Salvini may be polar opposites in terms of solutions, they might agree on the causes of populism. Blair’s institute has suggested that concerns about social change, uncertain economic futures, social abandonment and political powerlessness have led to the rise of populist leaders.
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