A participatory process on the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project in Puglia. The participants in the open public debate had a generally negative perception of TAP, but it is ultimately still under construction.
Problems and Purpose
"The TAP is a project aimed at the construction of a new gas pipeline which aims to connect Italy and Greece through Albania, allowing the inflow of natural gas from the Caucasus and Middle East area." The infrastructure lands on Apulian coasts, in the locality of San Foca (municipality of Meledugno, Lecce).
The Board of the Puglia Region with resolution n.1976 of 22/10/13 has given priority to the participatory process on the TAP project (Trans Adriatic Pipeline), an infrastructural intervention of international importance, on which it is required "to formulate a mandatory but not binding opinion, considering that energy supply policies are the responsibility of the State.
Background History and Context
The history of TAP is a classic example of how an interest on an international scale wants to prevail over another on a local scale, according to a worn-out principle that a presumed general interest is equivalent to the higher geographical scale (national or international) while that of a lower scale is particular, and therefore expendable. The project began in 2003, when "EGL, now called Axpo Italia SpA, a company mainly active in the trading of electricity, gas, and financial energy products, began a feasibility study in 2003 which ended in 2006 with a positive opinion about the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of the pipeline". In February 2008, the Norwegian state company Statoil entered into a joint venture with EGL, creating TAP AG, an equal subsidiary responsible for the development, construction, and management of the pipeline.
In March 2009, an intergovernmental agreement was signed between Italy and Albania for cooperation in the fields of electricity and gas, identifying TAP as a project of priority interest for both countries.
From January 2012, when marine surveys began off the coast of San Foca, until January 2014, the period in which the Puglia Region elaborated its (negative) opinion following the results of the participatory process carried out in the final months of the previous year, there was a period of continuous denials by the Region, its local authorities and its civil society. However, the Italian State, the European Union, and the private sector stubbornly insist on the need for the infrastructure and impose their will to proceed with the works, even by resorting to the use of the police forces. Protests and clashes followed and operations are still ongoing  .
The Region in the period in question was governed by Nichi Vendola, leader of SEL and candidate in the primaries for the national center-left. Since 2016, Michele Emiliano has taken over, an uncomfortable exponent of the national PD and supporter of regional denial, speaking for an attempt at mediation, an alternative landing of the TAP at the port of Brindisi (without the consent of the mayor of the city), and converting the Cerano coal-fired thermoelectric power plant to gas. The TAP company would have evaluated the hypothesis and then discarded it because it was more expensive and in any case more impactful than that of San Foca .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The participatory path was promoted by the Council of the Puglia Region under the supervision of Councillor Guglielmo Minervini (1961-2016). A group of professional facilitators was hired to take care of the process, supported by a staff of regional officials and technicians. About ten facilitators and verbalizers were also recruited for the Open Space Technology method. The process was financed by the Region but no information relating to the amount of the process costs is available on the dedicated website. In addition to the Region, the collaboration of the local authorities most involved was necessary (in particular the Municipality of Meledugno and the Municipality and Province of Lecce) which made rooms, equipment, and personnel available.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The staff who oversaw the trial were recruited directly by the Councillor Minervini. Access to participatory events was open to all interested parties. Formal invitations were addressed to TAP company managers, technicians, and to state officials. The public debate was attended by Claudio De Vincenti (undersecretary of the Ministry of Economic Development), Mariano Grillo (Director General for environmental assessments of the Ministry of the Environment), Giampaolo Russo (CEO of TAP Italy), Salvatore Volpe (TAP engineer), Pierfrancesco Peppoloni (TAP Engineer), Barbara Lezzi (Senator of the 5 Star Movement), the regional councillor for urban planning Barbanente, various mayors and municipal technicians, university professors and researchers, and many citizens. About 220 people participated in the OST in Meledugno, while an estimate is not indicated for the confrontation event with the Government in Lecce.
Methods and Tools Used
Open Space Technology is a collaboration method that takes place in meetings of varying lengths (from half a day to 2-3 days) and can involve as few people as a few thousand. It is based on the self-organizing abilities of the groups, aggregated on the basis of interests and stimuli, launched by the participants themselves. The first phase is plenary, introduced by the general question (prepared by the conductors) and by the solicitation to the participants to present topics for discussion, synthetically and with a short exposition. The proposals are collected on the notice board of the OST to which all participants can then subscribe. Group work then follows. Participants are encouraged to behave as free from patterns and labels as possible. A rule is the maximum freedom of movement, from one group to another, moreover there is the possibility of isolating oneself (without being considered eccentric) or going to the buffet when one wants to and maybe meeting there with others. A self-produced synthetic report is requested for each group. In some cases, such as in Meledugno, participants-facilitators enter the OST and subdivide into groups, offering to verbalize and/or moderate the discussion.
Public confrontation, in the case examined here, refers to a general public meeting moderated by an authoritative figure, in which discussion and contradiction are promoted.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process is divided into 4 phases:
- Accreditation and information. In this first phase, all interested parties could get accredited to take part in the process. A dedicated website was activated that hosted the complex documentation relating to the project, the official documents, the calendar of appointments, the press review archive, and a forum (only 2 activated and non-participated discussions) for writing and requesting information or sending opinions.
- Ascolto ("I listen"). Preparatory meetings were held with the various categories of stakeholders using the Open Space Technology method. An event open to all for listening to local communities took place to identify problematic issues relating to the infrastructure. The results of the OST were narrated in an instant report. The summary of the nodes was translated into a criticality table, for the organization of the subsequent comparison.
- Comparison. The public debate was held on the criticalities that emerged, which can end with the ascertainment of convergence on the individual criticalities or with the ratification of the differences. In this case, the possibility of availing of a further third-party contribution from experts of a high scientific level was evaluated.
- Final summary. The results of the participatory process converge in a summary document which was sent to the regional offices in charge of drafting the opinion and to the competent Ministry.
Following the first phase, in which various recordings were collected, but no discussion via the web, the two-day OST took place, from the afternoon of Friday 29 November to the morning of Saturday 30 November, in Meledugno, in the Oratory spaces. OST is based on self-organization, so there were no speakers. Instead, participants were divided into working groups to investigate the different aspects connected to the general issue of “TAP or No TAP", considering the relevant values and problems.  In the initial plenary assembly, after the presentations by the mayor, the regional councillor and the methodological one by the curator, the thematic proposals were launched and posted on the central bulletin board. For each theme, a group was formed that went to the specially dedicated space to discuss. Two sessions were held on the first day, one from 4:45 pm to 7:00 pm with 8 working groups and the second from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm with only one working group. More than 220 people can be counted. No reports are available on the following Saturday.
Citizens, including some regional and local officials/technicians, teachers, brought out several critical points regarding: missing archaeological assessments, missing geological studies on the land section, concerns about the impact on tourism, land consumption due to "depressurization of gas ”, absence of authorization steps at the local level (municipal landscape commission), low number of jobs (30-40) promised, subsequent disturbing industrial expansions in the area which is expected. Various feelings of anger also emerged due to years of previous mobilization of citizens and negative opinions from local administrations. Minervini's strategy that emerge from his interventions in the working group is to add further expressions of discontent and opposition to technical arguments already noted and presented. There were no conflicting nodes between the participants but considerable convergence; the event seemed almost dedicated to a collection of lamentations. In fact, there were no state officials or TAP technicians present.
The opportunity for discussion was presented on 27 December 2013 in the “Officine Cantelmo” room in Lecce. The meeting was moderated by Councilor Minervini, and was divided into 3 thematic sessions: 1) Italian energy strategies and procurement policies with government representatives as a privileged interlocutor; 2) technical criticalities emerging from the project with the members of the company TAP Italia as a privileged interlocutor; 3) impacts of the project on local development.
In the confrontation, there was an exchange of arguments, questions, and bickering, which were tight and virulent between the participants at times. Government and TAP members have tried to provide explanations, mostly technical, for shortcomings and unclear points. It should be noted that an academic working group of the University of Salento (Lecce) has identified as San Foca, the locality of the landing, the point with the greatest risk and environmental impact, where the pipeline could arrive. The conclusions were left to Undersecretary De Vincenti, who with the best of intentions explained, as he had already done at the beginning, that the work is strategic but that the Government wants the general interest to marry "the interest of territories, with local interest"; that what was said in the comparison, and all the critical findings highlighted will be taken into serious consideration and evaluated during the ongoing national Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure and that therefore they would have taken into account the discussion of the day in their decisions.
Finally, the EIA Committee of the Puglia Region, in the session of 14 January 2014, collected all the observations of the associations, provinces, and municipalities concerned and the results of the participatory process, taking into account the lack of information and the non-existent impact studies on the last section connection with the SNAM sorting station in Mesagne. Consequently, it expressed, in a 37-page document, its opinion, which was also strongly negative.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The process took place in a period in which the spontaneous and lively public debate on TAP had already involved, after at least 2 years of speeches, almost all of Salento society and regional management. As noted in the previous point, it seems that Minervini has tried, through the activation of the process, on the one hand to ensure a verification of the net convergence of local positions contrary to TAP, and on the other hand to add this "proof" to the observations and technical opinion, already negative, expressed by his administration, and by many civil society associations. Strangely, some observations from the economic and trade union associations do not appear in the available documents.
It cannot be said that the participatory process has given a key contribution, which has influenced in some way, the overall outcome of the story.
There have been appeals and counter-appeals to date . Governments have changed, but in the end the TAP is under construction with top-down imposition, even if it is still severely hampered. Certainly the social, administrative and economic costs (given the delays and the resources invested in judicial procedures) of the TAP company have risen and continue to do so. Will all citizens, on a national scale, this time, be responsible for it? It seems that the general interest is combined with local discomfort.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Proposing nineteenth-century nationalistic models of governance, in which the local can be expendable for a presumed general, national, or international interest, among other things never verified democratically, is a key point that the philosophy of participatory democracy does not consider acceptable. Since the beginning of the international agreement, local communities have not been involved in the project and have had to undergo the choice only in the final phase, through the bureaucratic procedures, from which, once again, they have been excluded.
However, keeping to the analysis of the use of participatory tools in this case used to define the opinion of the regional body, given the predictability and weakness of the outcomes, the geographical scale of the discussion could have been broadened, rather than closed in the local. This strategy, including subjects from other, extra-regional territories (perhaps organizing the event directly in Rome) would have "challenged" the government leitmotif and would have given the opportunity to verify the reasons for the local refusal with subjects less 'interested' by the impact of the pipeline, forcing even those who were watching, economic categories included, to express themselves. It would have been riskier and more costly, but the result would have been more likely to bring in new mediation ideas or to widen the discredit against the government. Had that happened, it would also have been necessary to discuss the 'ad imperio' governance approach that this project imposes and perhaps propose new formulas and principles of governance and protection of the territory that guarantee maximum autonomy and determination of local wills with respect to the safeguarding of one's own territory, against the state. A national and European debate on this issue is urgent and the TAP case could have been a forerunner, a concrete case from which great changes could be propagated.
 Congedo F., Gelao A., Pignatelli G. (2013), Il Gasdotto TAP e la Puglia, OST “Evento di ascolto delle comunità locali", 29-30 November, Instant Report, Borgagne in Meledugno, p. 4.
 La Puglia che partecipa [ARCHIVED] https://web.archive.org/web/20170619121204/http://partecipazione.regione.puglia.it/index.php/argomenti/tap-il-gasdotto-trans-adriatico-in -puglia / history
 Palmiotti D., Guerriglia “no Tap” contro il cantiere del gasdotto in Puglia, Il Sole 24 Ore, 2/5/2017> http://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/impresa-e-territori/2017... (rel., 17/8/17).
 For a detailed history, see Romano A., Zitelli A., Gasdotto TAP e proteste: cosa succede in Puglia, Valigia Blu, 1/4/2017> http://www.valigiablu.it/tap-gasdotto-puglia / (rel., 17/8/17).
 Congedo F., Gelao A., Pignatelli G. (2013), p. 5.
 Congedo F., Gelao A., Pignatelli G. (2013). Il Gasdotto TAP e la Puglia, OST “Evento di ascolto delle comunità locali", 29-30 November, Instant Report, Borgagne in Meledugno.
 Congedo F., Gelao A., Pignatelli G. (2013), p. 6.
 Congedo F., Gelao A., Pignatelli G. (2013), p. 35-36.
 Confronto pubblico tra comunità locali Governo nazionale e TAP (2013), Report of 27 December, Lecce, p. 36.
 VIA Committee of the Puglia Region (2014), Parere della Regione Puglia sul TAP, 14 January.