BUCHAREST — A draft law enabling mining companies to expropriate land as they please sparked a vivid debate in Romania Tuesday, with rights groups claiming it would "spell the end of democracy".
The bill, which was adopted by the upper house of parliament in 2009 and should be soon summitted to the lower house, reads that "mining works are in the public interest".
On these grounds, it is no longer up to the state but to mining companies to expropriate land and then pay out compensatiion, it adds.
"This draft law violates the right to private property, Romania's Constitution and several international treaties signed by this country," MaiMultVerde and Alburnus Maior associations said.
"Under this bill, private companies substitute themselves to the state and abusively acquire prerogatives belonging to public authorities," they added.
According to Doru Mitrana, head of MaiMultVerde, an environmental lobby group, "allowing a private entity to unilaterally annul a citizen's rights spells the end of democracy."
A petition posted by campaign groups on the Internet has so far been signed by 16,000 people including former justice minister Monica Macovei, currently a European MP.
The bill, tabled by a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democrats and one from the Social-Democrat opposition, is seen as giving a helping hand to a Canadian-owned company, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), which plans to set up an opencast gold mine in central Romania.
The company has already garnered President Traian Basescu's support as well as a crucial archaeological permit despite opposition from environmental groups.
RMGC is now expecting to see if it obtains a permit from the environment ministry.
But Rosia Montana inhabitants have vowed to block the mine by refusing to allow their land to be expropriated.
If adopted by the MPs, the bill would remove the last obstacle to the mining project, analysts say.