Our good EFD colleague Slavi Binev MEP from Bulgaria could perhaps have been embarrassed at sitting in the EFD group alongside UKIP MEPs, when we have been quite vocal with our concerns about immigration in January from Romania and Bulgaria. But he has neatly turned the question around by calling on the government of his country to create prosperity and employment at home, and build a Bulgaria in which citizens no longer feel the need to go abroad to achieve a decent quality of life.
Rather the same idea was in my mind, at least tangentially, when I started to take an interest in a gold mining proposal in Romania, at a site called Rosia Montana. I was primarily motivated by my frustration at hyperactive eco-warriors who seem determined to block any industrial development anywhere, whether gold mining in Romania or shale gas in Sussex. And of course as a general principle I am pro-industry, pro-jobs, pro-growth and pro-prosperity – for Romanians as well as for the rest of us. But if the effect of a new gold-mine at Rosia Montana is to provide opportunity and jobs for Romanians in Romania, that must have a positive impact in reducing problematic migration flows.
Romania’s government faces policy choices that could set it on a course to prosperity within the European Union (EU) or relegate it to the status of an impoverished Balkan backwater. In making the right choice, Romania’s politicians could generate jobs for Romanians back home rather than forcing their citizens to leave the country in search of work elsewhere in the EU. From January 2014, residents of Romania (and Bulgaria) – two of Europe’s poorest countries – will be entitled to travel to the UK where they will be able to claim the same benefits and National Health Service care as other EU citizens under a relaxation to EU freedom-to-work controls. As a result, job agencies in the UK say they are being bombarded with requests from many who want to know how they can make claims.
According to a report issued last month by the Democracy Institute , “Romania faces a choice between two policy paths: one that leads to a prosperous, market-driven tiger economy built on environmentally sustainable foundations; and the other that leads to a Romania with the status and circumstance of a Balkan backwater, a corrupt political establishment leading an economically impoverished populace.” I concur with this view, and indeed when looking at significant investment in country such as that brought by the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), it could even be a significant contributor to the EU economy as a whole and not just to Romania (I understand that 78% of the benefits of the project will stay in country).
RMGC is currently trying to revive mining in the town of Rosia Montana, which desperately needs investment and has a terribly high unemployment rate (I have read that it is as high as 80% in the Apuseni Mountain region where Rosia Montana is located). Many local residents seem to be in favour of the project as expressed in a local referendum in December 2012, where almost 80% of those who voted in Rosia Montana voted in favour of a resumption of mining and welcomed the prospect of employment and funding finding its way to their impoverished region. Certainly my own view is that, on balance, the merits of the project in terms of economic development and employment outweigh any risks, which are in any case very well contained. The surveillance of the European Commission in line with the Mining Waste Directive should give Romanians considerable confidence as there are (as usual) very comprehensive EU regulations covering the safety aspects of gold mining, and I am led to believe that these regulations are effective. The challenges of gold extraction are there to be managed, not to be fled from in terror.
RMGC’s opponents are seeking to block and delay the project with scare stories. They exaggerate and propagate any negative stories (and in some cases invent a few negative stories of their own). They abuse the so-called “Precautionary Principle”. Given the parlous state of Europe’s economies, we can no longer tolerate this very damaging approach.