Romanian Parliament Fails to Pass Pro-Mineral Extraction Law

Tudor Bradatan: Public pressure spurred Romanian Parliament to reject amendments to county’s mining laws that would have likely expanded mining and fracking projects.

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Hundreds protested outside the Romanian Parliament Tuesday as lawmakers failed to pass major amendments to the nation’s mining laws. If approved, they would have allowed natural resource extraction projects to be declared, quote, of exceptional public interest, making it easier for the government to approve such controversial mining and drilling projects.

The critics say the move would have boosted Canadian company Gabriel Resources’ plans for Europe’s largest opencast gold mine, which would use a controversial technique involving industrial amounts of cyanide. The company has waited 14 years for approval.

But this project has been opposed by many Romanians, and as many as 15,000 filled the streets of Bucharest in September. The day before the vote, 50 Greenpeace activists were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in front of the Romanian Parliament.

Now joining us to give us an update from Romania, we’re joined by Tudor Bradatan. Tudor is a founding member of the MiningWatch Romania initiative, active for more than ten years in the Save Rosia Montana campaign.

Thank you so much for joining us.

TUDOR BRADATAN, MEMBER, MININGWATCH ROMANIA: Thank you for inviting me.

NOOR: So can you give us an update about just exactly what happened in the Parliament in Romania? We know hundreds of people were protesting outside, and this amendment, which would have made natural resource extraction much easier in Romania, it failed to get the necessary votes for approval.

BRADATAN: Yes. So they tried to change the mining law of Romania. And it is a law that last was changed in 2003. And the provisions that they tried to put there were meant to make it very easy for a company to take land that they need for mining projects or for drilling projects. So any piece of land that the company had an exploitation license on can be easily obtained. They would just send the money to an account, and from that moment–that is opened in the name of the landowner, and from that moment technically the company would become owner of this piece of land.

It is very unconstitutional, and it’s of course against human rights. And the law did not pass. This was just one example of very bad provisions that the law had. There were many others, including a tax on fresh water that the companies might use, like well water, that is currently not taxed in Romania, and many others that made lots of people very nervous. And this would be an unprecedented attack on human rights and on the Romanian Constitution.

And many people saw it like a threat. And everybody called their representative, their representative from the Chamber of Deputies. Everybody went out into the streets to protest against a law that practically undermines the national interest and grants too much power to corporations and private-owned companies.

The vote in the Senate that was last week did not pass. So when it came to the decision of Chamber, which was the Chamber of Deputies, the law had already started on the wrong foot, and they managed to get 160 votes out of the 204 votes that they needed. I have to mention that politicians from all political parties voted for or against the law, but there was a massive opposition from the part of the opposition parties in Romania.

NOOR: But the project does have support in the government. I believe the prime minister’s in support of it. And this Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, has threatened to essentially seek as much as $4 billion in damages from Romania if this law is not approved. Talk more about the pressures calling for the approval of a law and this mining project.

BRADATAN: Yes. There’s very little people in Romania that support this company and what they’re trying to do. And a big number of people [incompr.] in the Romanian government, they are a minority that supports this mining project against a huge opposition from the part of the civil society. Each time that they would need more, like, an excuse to grant a permit to this project, they’d claim this scarecrow of penalties that the company might seek in a court case.

We talked to lawyers, we talked to experts in law, and everybody said that the company does not stand a single chance to obtain nothing. It’s like a company that tried to put a project and did not obtain the necessary permits. The deal with the Romanian government was not that the Romanian government could do anything to get the project approved. They asked for approvals, and their approvals can be rejected because they are against the Romanian law.

This whole idea of changing Romanian laws so that the company can have the project within the rule of law, this is what is very intriguing, and this is what pissed off very much number of Romanians that took the streets, that protested, and it makes it now, like, one of the most unpopular projects in Romania. [incompr.] basically say corruption is a very legitimate interest, and they say politicians that tried to push this project, that means theft of private property, destruction for the environment, destruction of archaeological vestiges. So it’s very unpopular, and everybody in Romania thinks that the project doesn’t stand a chance.

Now, as for the claims, I doubt it that any normal tribunal would set this ridiculous amount of money that Romania would have to pay for a company that, as I said, was not capable [crosstalk]

NOOR: So, Tudor, if these amendments were passed, they would have also made it easier for companies to expand hydraulic fracturing in your country. There’s been video posted online that’s gone viral of hundreds of protesters targeting a Chevron site. They temporarily stopped the fracking there, but it’s since resumed. But talk about what’s happening in regards to fracking in Romania as well.

BRADATAN: Yes. About that, Chevron and their drilling process, you have to understand that they tried to put a drill on a property that is illegally obtained by the mayor of that little village in eastern Romania. So what the people did: they went there and they did not let Chevron install a drill there. They had every right to oppose this, because especially that the Mayor that got into power got into power scaring off people that when the drill comes, the water will be polluted.

Now, the people there just defended their right to clean water. And everybody saw [oil line] spills, everybody saw reports from the U.S. stating that shale gas exploitation affects groundwater. And we’re talking about a village with people that are subsistence farmers. They live off the land. They need that water. That water supplies their lifestyle, is the water that they use for the animals and for the crops.

So the fact that Chevron puts a drill in there just means that we are going to poison you. And everybody stood there, and they stood against the install of this drill. They managed to pressure Chevron to withdraw from the site at first, but then, right after the Romanian national day, what happened is that the Romanian riot police came there, along with the [incompr.] police, and they just forcefully took back that piece of land that does not belong to Chevron. It has been put to Chevron, their disposal, but it is illegally obtained. In a similar case, someone went to prison, one of the other Romanian politicians [incompr.] case that is very similar to this, went to prison because that piece of land was not legally obtained.

And the people tried to force again Chevron off of that piece of land, but this time there was too much police that bullied them and did not let them trespass near that area. And there were people that owned property next to this land that were forced off their property–so they were staying in their own land, and police came and took them away. It is an abuse and it is a mocking of the rule of law, what the Romanian police did in this case. And I’m very sure that the public opposition will just grow, because nobody will stand behind and just look at how policemen beat old ladies and farmers.

NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us.

BRADATAN: Welcome.

NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.

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