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Editorial: Standing with the people

The European project we need is one that supports the people against a mega-pipeline, writes Emma Hughes

April 1, 2014
3 min read


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.


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An array of international oil companies, European politicians and financiers have big plans for the municipality of Melendugno in southern Italy. They want the Euro‑Caspian mega-pipeline, a huge piece of gas infrastructure that will run 4,500 kilometres from the Caspian Sea, to break land in the coastal region.

Such a pipeline would industrialise large sections of the countryside and harm the key economic activities in the region: olive farming and tourism. Work in Melendugno is seasonal; at times people hardly stop but in other months they have significant amounts of spare time. This has enabled the community to mount an impressive resistance to the pipeline. They have rejected the project at the municipality level and 40 experts from the region have produced an 80‑page environmental impact assessment detailing its many problems.

The imposition of this piece of fossil fuel infrastructure has ignited the community – they are planning for the whole municipality to go fossil fuel free. They intend to install wind turbines and solar panels on houses.

Meanwhile in London, thousands of kilometres away, Xavier Rolet, London Stock Exchange CEO, has been welcoming delegates to the Caspian Corridor Conference promoting the pipeline. The people who are most directly affected by the scheme weren’t present. They are not invited to the key conversations; most of the time they don’t even know where and when they take place.

The pipeline has recently been adopted as a European Commission energy project of common interest, meaning it is likely to get EU money and be subject to slim-lined regulations. No one from the Commission has spoken to the community at Melendugno. Up in the ether, obscured by the corporate fog, the region’s future is being decided.

The neoliberal artifice of the EU is almost entirely cut off from the people it is supposed to represent. It has become part of a separate sphere of global financial elites. Crucial areas of public life have been removed from democratic control.

Whether we want to reform the EU, burn it down or build it anew, we need to think about what it would mean to create a democratic Europe. With elections to the European parliament, the EU’s only vaguely democratic institution, taking place in May, we hope our new dedicated website at europe.redpepper.org.uk will provide a space to help build an alternative, genuinely democratic Europe.

Two elements that will be crucial are a defence of migrants, given the surge in reactionary nationalism we are likely to see over the course of the election, and a break up of the financial interests that lie at the heart of the European project. That is why the Blockupy movement is so exciting, with its dual tactics of decentralised pan-European actions and a larger co-ordinated action to coincide with the opening of the European Central Bank’s new offices in the autumn.

Tony Benn was constantly reminding us that we must take responsibility for democracy ourselves. Whatever we demand of future institutions, they must put us back in control of the basic elements of our lives.

The people of Melendugno are not putting their energy into the sterility of EU directives. They are planning, as a community, to take control of their own energy provision, ousting the oil companies and freeing themselves of large bills. The kind of European project we need is one that stands in solidarity with them, not with the business elites.


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.