National tensions flare in Parliament mining row

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Tensions simmered between Hungarian and Romanian MEPs in Brussels as the European Parliament yesterday (5 May) supported a ban on cyanide mining technologies, a move seen as a blow to Romanian hopes of running a 22-billion-dollar gold mine project in the country.

The proposal, supported by the vast majority of MEPs (488 votes in favour to 48 against), will call on the European Commission to propose a complete ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies in the EU before the end of 2011.

However, Romanian centre-right MEPs felt their country was being unfairly singled out, as the proposal also calls on the Commission to forbid any new projects involving these technologies until the ban is in force, and Romania is the only EU member state with a major project in the pipeline.

EURACTIV Romania reports that a majority of MEPs from the Democratic-Liberal Party close to the country's President Traian Basecu (PDL, European People's Party-affiliated) – including Marian Jean Marinescu, Cristian Preda, Elena Basescu, Traian Ungureanu and Iosif Matula – had tried their best to dilute the resolution, without success.

In contrast, ALDE-affiliated MEP Renate Weber and S&D-affiliated member Daciana Sarbu were among the initiators of the resolution.

"We proposed a resolution to ban cyanide technologies, because it is our duty to take all measures to protect citizens from ecological disasters," MEP Sarbu stated.

If it is given a permit to operate, the Gold Mountain mine in the Romanian town of Rosia Montana will become Europe's largest open-cast gold mining project and would provide an impoverished community with much-needed jobs and economic growth.

By some estimates, Gold Mountain contains gold to the value of $22 billion. Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company, was granted the right to mine the Rosia Montana gold and the Romanian government was a large shareholder in the project.

The managing director of the mine condemned the proposal, saying it could put at risk "tens of thousands of jobs" and cause "untold damage" to Romanian mining communities.

Romanian revisions blocked

In a desperate bid to salvage these business hopes, a group of Romanian MEPs tabled an amendment calling for an EU-wide "assessment" before any ban is considered.

As the vote approached, a flurry of emails was sent by both Hungarian and Romanian MEPs to state their case.

Romanian MEP Elena B?sescu pleaded with MEPs to support the Romanian amendment, as without it, the proposal would "de facto close down all gold mines in Europe and make the EU completely dependent on imports from countries which will not impose a ban".

In one of a series of responding mails, Hungarian MEP János Áder attacked the Romanian amendment, arguing that it "aims to destroy the valuable consensus agreed by all groups".

Hungary was one of the staunchest supporters of the ban, as the Romanian Baia Mare disaster in 2000 (see 'Background') had a severe ecological impact on Hungarian territory.

(With additional reporting from EURACTIV Romania.)

Romanian centre-right MEP Cristian Preda told EURACTIV that "a general prohibition of cyanide technologies in mining should have been adopted only after having undertaken a thorough study not only on the implementation of the existing European legislation, but also of the scientific data that would support such a ban".

He added that "as adopted, the resolution does not take sufficiently into account the environmental and social consequences of such a ban for the local communities. And I am thinking here particularly to the current gold mining project existing in Rosia Montana, a region of Romania already heavily affected by poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation".
Finally, he added that "an elusive call for the Commission to set up reconversion plans is simply not enough. For the representatives of the local community, this mining project is the only viable alternative for ensuring the sustainable development of their region. I think they deserve a chance for a better life and that the precautionary principle, correctly understood, cannot mean condemning them to underdevelopment."
 

The use of cyanide mining technology, particularly in the gold mining industry, is viewed by most environmentalists as a serious ecological threat.

In January 2000 the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania was dubbed "the worst disaster since Chernobyl" by some groups.

The Baia Mare project in northwest Romania was run by Esmeralda, an Australian company and Remin, a Romanian one. 100,000 cubic metres of liquid and suspended waste containing about 50 to 100 tonnes of cyanide-contaminated spill leaked into the rivers Sasar, Lapus, Somes, Tisza and Danube before reaching the Black Sea about four weeks later. Some 2,000 kilometres of the Danube's water catchment area were affected by the spill.

The European Parliament's decision could have repercussions in other EU countries where companies using cyanide technologies to extract gold have been active.

In Bulgaria, Canadian company Dundee Precious Metals is implementing cyanide gold projects in Chelopech, near Plovdiv, and Ada Tepe, near Krumovgrad.

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