Government calls for Verespatak/Roşia Montană UNESCO Heritage site listing

The government is backing a process by which the Verespatak (Romanian: Roşia Montană) site – the mountain containing one of the largest gold deposits in Europe – could be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said on Tuesday (via Transindex).

The Romanian prime minister said the Liberal Party has always been supportive of this action, but it had been blocked by the former socialist government. Orban called on the minister of culture to start negotiations with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and find out whether the $4.4 billion arbitration dispute between Gabriel Resources Ltd. and Romania would create any obstacles to adding the ancient Roman mines of Roşia Montană to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

On the other hand, the Meridian National Trade Union Confederation strongly believes that

the government’s move has nothing to do with preserving the site as it is, but instead blocking access to Europe’s biggest gold and silver deposits,

which it believes the Romanian government should monetize in favor of Romanian citizens. The union calls the Liberal government “irresponsible” for overlooking the country’s economic potential by listing the site on the World Heritage list. From the union’s perspective, gold mining would give a boost to the Romanian mining industry and place the country as Europe’s biggest gold producer in a period when the price of gold per ounce is setting new record highs.

The union demands that the government completely revoke the documentation submitted to UNESCO for inclusion. Interestingly, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) recommended the inclusion of Roşia Montană on the World Patrimony List in 2018 based on their findings that “The mining landscape in Roşia Montană hosts the most significant, extensive and technically diverse Romanian gold mining project discovered thus far.”

Back in 2018, Ambassador Adrian Cioroianu, Permanent Delegate of Romania to UNESCO, said that the Roşia Montană files were with UNESCO, but it would be more natural to continue after the legal dispute between the private company and Romania is settled.

Gabriel Resources, through its 81-percent-owned Romanian subsidiary Roşia Montană Gold Corporation S.A. (the Romanian State owns the remaining 19 percent), has been engaged in the exploration and development of precious metal mineral deposits in Romania, including the Roşia Montană gold and silver projects.

The company has targeted the exploitation one of the largest gold deposits in Europe, which contains confirmed and probable mineral reserves of 10.1 million ounces of gold and 47.6 million ounces of silver,

the litigation documents submitted by Gabriel Resources read.

The Romanian government issued a mining license to RMGC back in 1999, which empowered Gabriel to invest over $650 million to set the stage for the mining that involved cyanide technology. After acknowledging that its investment would not achieve the envisioned returns – because the company didn’t get the necessary recommendation from a body named the Technical Assessment Committee – the Canada-based company filed a lawsuit against the Romanian State, demanding that the latter pay $4.4 billion in damages. The dispute is ongoing.

Title image: Open-pit gold mine. Image credit: István Mihály

Author: István Fekete