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Rosia Montana: Learning From the EU on Legal Frameworks for Mining and Minerals

29/07/2014 15:20 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

Few journals noticed the importance of the 2014 Raw Materials Conference held in Athens, Greece, in June; especially for countries like Romania, baring significant natural resources, but not a developed raw materials sector. The conference was organized by the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission and the central message stressed upon, besides the importance of metals and minerals for our quality of life, the security of supply for European industries and value generation in the extractive segment. That translates into technology advancements, jobs, and economic output.

The Challenges

European mining regions face a high number of EU regulations, difficulties in exchanging information at European and regional levels, a need for closer interaction between companies active in the mining sector and national and regional actors, as well as solutions for sustainable growth. Some member states have attempted to address these issues individually and can be used as case studies for countries like Romania and for projects like the one in Rosia Montana.

An inclusive approach towards global leadership in Finland

Finland saw a redefinition of its national strategy regarding its non-energy extractive industry, extending the original scope and setting ambitious national objectives. The extension involved government, industry representatives and the general public and outlined an action plan for authorities and the industry to implement an agreed programme of change for the benefit of all sides and of society as a whole.

One of the aims was to establish the country as a global leader in the sustainable utilization of mineral resources, a first definition of a National Mineral Resources Strategy being issued in 2010 for this purpose. However, following an active debate in the country's media about various aspects of minerals extraction prompted the Government to rethink its approach and convene a high level Round Table, chaired by the Prime Minister.

The Round Table saw the participation of 160 representatives from a wide range of interest groups, involving all levels of government, members of the general public, elected representatives in the national assembly, industry representatives and so on. The discussions at the round table were followed by works of 10 expert groups focused on specific issues in their area of expertise, leading to the publication in April 2013 of an Action Plan setting out targeted measures to be implemented by 2019 and descriptions of long-term objectives for up to 2030, so that Finland can achieve its goal as a global leader in sustainable mining.

The Framework and dialogue approach in Sweden

In the Swedes' view, mining should first of all be done in harmony with the environment, cultural values and business activities. Secondly, the strategy envisages dialogue as the best means to promote innovation and growth. The importance of framework conditions and infrastructure is established as a basis for competitiveness and growth. A key accent is placed on innovation in the extractive industry, relying on an excellent knowledge base. Also, the strategy sets as an objective that Sweden achieves an internationally renowned and active non-energy extractive industry.

Sweden put forward a total of nineteen complementary measures to the objective described above. The scope, the vision and comprehensive nature of the strategy contributed to setting an example in the benefits of an open and interactive process in setting out long-term goals. The process involved all stakeholders, government at both national and local levels, the non-energy extractive industry, general public and interested parties and managed to meet the needs of society and to meet the needs of the non-energy extractive industry and to extend and maintain Sweden's competitive advantage in this field.

Better information for more investments in Portugal

If I look at Portugal's 2013-2020 National Strategy for Geological Resources and Mineral Resources, I see a comprehensive act established by law, creating a framework for promoting Portugal's mining industry and placing extended importance on information and promoting the country's untapped potential.

The strategy focuses on redefining the role of the state as an adequate framework provider for the mining sector. It also aims to improve information collection and systematization methods to increase the national knowledge and disseminate the information to promote the national potential and attract investors. The goal of their strategy is to ensure economic, social, environmental and territorial sustainability.

Facilitating minerals exploration and development in Ireland

Ireland's mineral exploration and development is governed by the country's Minerals Development Act. The act offers flexibility in exploration activity through the issuing of a prospective licence within 4 months from the application. The prospective licence covers all minerals excluding stone, sand, gravel, clay, peat and petroleum and allows companies to operate on a diverse range of materials.

At the time of the conference, there were 659 prospecting licenses issued within Ireland, with each one covering an area of 35 square kilometers. The licenses are normally issued for a six year period and include an option for renewal dependent on meeting certain requirements. The effect of this framework procedure for exploration and development of mineral deposits is that it promotes the exploration sector for metals and minerals, an activity considered to be strategically important given the number of jobs created and its importance in attracting and maintaining inward investment in Ireland.

What can Romania learn from these examples?

At the 2014 Raw Materials Conference, Mr Mark Rachovides, President of Euromines, observed that "our future is one where technological advances lead our industry, where regulation compliments growth and is born from a hard-won consensus for a better future". In order to develop Europe's richness in natural resources, Dr Yannis Maniatis, the Greek Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, believes that sustainable production requires an adequate legal, environmental and economic framework as well as a common effort in streamlining administrative conditions and bench-marking best practices.

EU member states have already started addressing these challenges, be it with a focus on information in order to promote the national potential as in Portugal, an inclusive national strategy for sustainable mining as in Finland, open dialogue and focusing on frameworks as established by Sweden's national strategy, or be it in streamlining permitting as in Ireland. Each one of these countries offers a valuable lesson in moving towards a transparent, efficient and mutually-beneficial environment for the industry and society as a whole.

Romania can move one step further and apply all these lessons to become the leader by restarting its mining industry with a flagship project like Rosia Montana, a project that experts argue will set new standards for the gold and silver mining industry in Europe and potentially worldwide.

The majority of the information referred to in this article is based on the Ad-hoc debate groups draft published on the European Union website and on the statements published on the Raw Materials Conference 2014 website.