Romania gold mine referendum possible during EU elections
04.09.13 @ 09:29
Berlin - Three days into street protests against a controversial gold mine project, Romanian President Traian Basescu on Tuesday (3 September) said he may call a referendum during EU elections in May 2014, if society remains "divided" on the issue.
Several thousand people protested in Bucharest and other Romanian cities against a Canadian-run project at Rosia Montana, which is set to become the largest open-cast gold mine in Europe if parliament approves it and Basescu agrees.
Protesters are mainly concerned about the use of cyanide to extract gold.
They also object to four mountain tops being cut open and to ancient Roman sites being covered by a cyanide-poisoned lake.
The demonstrators - organised mainly via Facebook and Twitter - claim it represents is a bad deal for the Romanian state.
Just six percent of the gold revenues will flow to state coffers, with Romania owning a 25 percent stake in the Canadian project.
With 10.1 million estimated ounces of gold and 47.6 million ounces of silver, Rosia Montana is worth about €11.3 billion.
"If the law passes through parliament and it continues to cause a rift in the society, I will certainly not sign it before holding a referendum," Basescu said in a press conference.
He also vowed to keep a "neutral" stance towards the project in order not to influence the public debate.
For his part, the minister of economy, Varujan Vosganian, said his institution never approved the draft bill as he was away in Ukraine when the rest of the government tabled it.
He said Romania stands to gain economically from the deal.
But he added: "I have great doubts about the environmental issues. I want someone to openly assume responsibility for the environment. This should be done during and not after the parliament debates. Without environmental guarantees, many MPs will have a problem voting for this project."
Himself an MP from the ruling Liberal Party, the minister said his vote will depend on the environmental guarantees being made.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whose Social-Democratic Party was last year fiercely opposed to the project, is now pressing for the law to be voted on in autumn.
He has suggested he may vote against it, in his capacity as an individual MP.