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25 Feb 2021

Investigate Europe

The Energy Charter Treaty — How shadow courts could prolong Europe’s fossil age

Energy Charter Treaty

'The Energy Charter Treaty — How shadow courts could prolong Europe’s fossil age', 25 February 2021

The little-known Energy Charter Treaty allows foreign investors to sue states if they feel treated unfairly by changes in energy legislation. This could become a massive threat to the EU and its member states in trying to achieve their climate targets. 

Picturesque fishing villages scatter the Adriatic coast as the sea sparkles in the sunlight. This is the Italian region of Abruzzo, where, in the summer months, sun-seeking tourists flock to fill the beaches. But one morning in 2008, locals awoke to a sight that disturbed this picture-postcard scene. “We saw from the coast a small platform sticking out of the sea. An abomination. We went together, started asking the authorities and made our voices heard,” says Enrico Gagliano to Investigate Europe. What he saw was an oil platform put in place to explore one of the largest oil fields in the Mediterranean, Ombrina Mare.

Within months, along with others, Gagliano founded the “No Triv” (no extraction) movement. Soon, the protest grew, finding support in the 10 regional councils. In March 2015, more than 60,000 people took the streets of Lanciano in protest. Just months later, the Italian government banned oil drilling within 12 nautical miles of the coast. It was the end of the Ombrina Mare project.

The environmental movement cheered. But not everyone was happy. The British oil company Rockhopper, which had bought the oil field, sued the Italian state, invoking an international investment protection agreement that few have heard of: the Energy Charter Treaty...