Brussels Diary: The fight for Dracula's gold and rights of the poor edition

Socialists do not tend to support things that might lose them their electorate. Keeping the poor poor is a standard trick of the left. What would they do if "ordinary people" were no longer dependent on them?

The old ones are the best ones...
Alexandra Swann
On 8 September 2012 13:34

The new term in the European Parliament has kicked off with a bang. Brussels is once again buzzing with activity and our office has been incredibly busy with non-stop committee meetings and preparations for next week's Strasbourg session.

I will be remaining in Brussels next week and am already looking forward to having a little space to make sure everything is entirely up to date and all our arrangements for the UKIP conference have been made. 

One of the committees that Roger is involved with is the Petitions Committee. Over the course of the past two years we have been actively supportive of the Rosia Montana gold mine in Romania and, unsurprisingly, we have been fighting this battle against Socialists and Greens.

In particular, we have had countless clashes with the Romanian MEP Victor Bostinaru, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group.

Despite the name of his political group, Mr Bostinaru is evidently opposed to "progress" in any real sense. Rosia Montana, located in the Transylvanian mountains, would be Europe's largest open-cast gold mine. It would not only create thousands of jobs for a struggling economy in an area with a two-thousand year tradition of mining and 80 percent unemployment, but bring an estimated $19 billion to Romania which might come in handy during the current economic crisis and have the further positive externality of reducing the burden on European taxpayers.

One can but dream. But there are always objections for Socialists who do not tend to support job creation that might lose them their electorate. Keeping the poor poor is a standard trick of the left.  What would they do if "ordinary people" were no longer dependent on them?

There are arguments that the process of gold extraction, which uses cyanide, might be a tad damaging to the environment, but European Union legislation is nothing if not a cacophony of regulation which means that there would without doubt be adequate safeguards in place.

The huge potential benefits vastly outweigh the risks: the mining project is a solid investment and a huge opportunity for the region; the challenges of extraction should be met not fled from.

However, a decade after the mine was first proposed, Rosia Montana remains Romania's longest running political controversy. 

Successive political leaders have been reluctant to give assent to the project. They are scared, and from what I hear first hand from the Romanian fellows with whom we are working, Romanian politics is worthy of its murky reputation. Rosia Montana is something of a poisoned chalice for Romanian politicians -- much like the position of a Conservative Future Chairman -- and allegations of corruption are rife. 

A foreign company has been granted the right to mine for gold while Eurocrats and EU politicians argue over semantics on reports related to the project. Meanwhile, Rosia Montana's epic level of unemployment remains and the supposed $19 billion of profits go untapped.

But why is this the case? Why on earth would Romanian politicians not be fighting to be the ones to give assent to such a lucrative project? I suppose this is a similar question to why are we not investigating our own shale gas reserves. Many campaigners admit that their real fight is with the government not with Rosia Montana Gold Corporation; they suspect corruption and sleaze.  They oppose the lack of transparency and fear a failure of good governance. 

I suppose my point, in a roundabout way, is that politicians can rarely do good things. Were there no political corruption, it is unlikely that Rosia Montana would still boast 80 percent unemployment and poverty.  Environmentalism is once again used as a banner against progress, growth, wealth, industry.

This may seem a strange issue for an East Midlands MEP to back with little political capital to gain but, as I often think regarding the decisions of Roger, I believe we have backed the right side.

Alexandra Swann works in the European Parliament and tweets @AlexandraLSwann

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