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Offshore law:Paramount for Romania's citizens, says Energy minister, economic sleight of hand, says opposition

Anton Anton

The Offshore Law is paramount for everybody and especially for Romania's citizens, on Monday said Energy Minister Anton Anton, at the Chamber of Deputies, after the "Gov't Hour" adding that in his opinion "it will clear Parliament." 

"If everybody agrees and tomorrow in the committee's meeting, we'll have an understanding, then it will clear Parliament. I hope it clears faster. Believe me! I think that the Offshore Law is paramount for everybody and especially for the citizens of Romania and it is a shame not to pass," Anton Anton told the media. 

The Energy minister Anton Anton was invited on Monday in the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies at the "Gov't Hour", the topic of the debates being the Offshore Law. The standing bureau of the Chamber of Deputies approved in this sense, last week, the demand by the Save Romania Union (USR) for the debate titled "The offshore law and Romania's solutions for capitalising on the Black Sea gas," with the Energy minister's participation. 

The draft law regarding certain necessary measures to implement the oil operations by the contract holders referring to the offshore oil perimeters was passed in the last Parliament session, but President Klaus Iohannis has sent the law to Parliament to be reviewed. 

On 24 September, the members of the Committee for energy, energy infrastructure and mineral resources with the Senate have given favourable opinion with the amendments of the Offshore draft law, and the very day it was passed by the Senate's plenum as first notified chamber. 

The committees for industries, budget and public administration with the Chamber of Deputies approved on 2 October the amendments to the Offshore Law, yet the very next day the plenum decided to send the report back to the committees for one more week, a decision made at the request of the UDMR (Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania) leader Kelemen Hunor and agreed upon by PSD. 

On 5 October, the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, minor at rule, ed. n.) Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, alongside several members of his party had a meeting with the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea and with the Public Finance minister, Eugen Teodorovici, on the Offshore Law. According to parliamentary sources, it has been decided for the draft law to be debated for another week in the select committees and then be put on the agenda of the Chamber of Deputies' plenum within two weeks. 

PSD (Social Democratic Party, major at rule, ed. n.) and ALDE have reached a consensus regarding the amendments to the Offshore Law, the PSD deputies' leader Daniel Suciu specifying on 17 October that, after a coalition's meeting, it has been decided that 50pct of the Black Sea gas production be traded on the Romanian stocks, and the operators' investment be deducted a maximum of 30 percent of the additional income tax. 

The decision was made after a meeting by the Chamber of Deputies' Speaker Liviu Dragnea and the PSD deputies' leader Daniel Suciu, with the ALDE representatives Andrei Gerea and Toma Petcu. 

Liviu Dragnea said on the same day that chances are for the Offshore bill to enter the agenda of the following week's Committees for industries, budget and public administration, stressing that as regards this piece of legislation "a Parliament's decision will exist." 

"I believe that next week, mandatorily, it must be addressed within the committees. (...) For the next week I see no reason why the respective draft law should not enter the committee," Dragnea said. 

The Chamber of Deputies is the decision-making forum in the Offshore Law's bill. 

The draft law sets a series of measures necessary to implementing the exploration, development of oil operations, exploitation of the oil reserves and abandonment works, as well as the works to the oil fields related to the oil operations, carried out by the owners of oil agreements regarding the offshore oil perimeters, in accordance with the provisions of the oil agreements signed between the contract holders and the ANRM (Mineral Resources National Agency). 

The National Liberal Party (PNL) deputy Virgil Popescu on Monday said that he has no idea about the amendments to the offshore law that are to be discussed on Tuesday in the select committees and invited the Energy minister Anton Anton to join the debates. 

"We'd like to know what reserves Romania has got there, and the ANRM is not providing the information. We'd like to know how much Romania stands to gain, not how much we think Romania will gain and the Public Finance Ministry should give clear, concrete data on the Romanian state's gain in this law, from these exploitations. (...) So far, I know nothing about waht has been discussed, and I believe that none of our Opposition colleagues knows what has been discussed, because you are once again opaque. There was a meeting last week within the coalition and everything was halted there, you have mimed consensus with the Opposition parties, you summoned us once last week, nothing was established and that was it, nothing has happened anymore," Popescu told the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies at the "Gov't Hour" debate where the Energy minister Anton Anton was invited. 

Popescu mentioned that apart from the fact that we must know how much the Romanian state stands to gain according to the Offshore Law, what happens to the extracted gas must also be established. 

The Save Romania Union (USR) deputy Cristina Pruna stated on the same occasion that the Black Sea gas exploitation should have been an example of good practices between the state and the investors, and yet it has turned into "an economic sleight of hand" looking like the "accident method". 

"The reason why I summoned you today in the plenum session of the Chamber of Deputies, Mr Minister, is the Offshore Law and the capitalization on the Black Sea gas production, a discussion which sadly was absent for quite a long time from the public area. Your groundless absence from the joint select committees' meetings was rather regrettable. It would have been in the Romanians' interest that the relevant minister sustained more this draft law in the public area, backed it more in Parliament and explained to the people why these exploitations are so important for Romania in the next 30 years, in particular since it is written in black and white in the energy strategy that we do have natural gas for the following 14 years. The Energy minister, the Economy minister, the Public Finance minister and the ANRM (Mineral Resources National Agency, ed. n.) director should have been present at the debates at the Chamber of Deputies, something that has never happened," Pruna said at the said debate. 

She said that the minister should explain what are the plans for capitalising on the Black Sea gas production on the domestic market, so as to extend the gas network in Romania and relaunch the petro-chemical industry. 

"There is an offshore law that is debated here, in Romania's Parliament, a bill that has been re-sent to the select committee and blocked for three weeks and tomorrow it is once again put on the agenda, because it seems that PSD and ALDE have had an accord. Meanwhile, we have witnessed a show of the declarations on behalf of the Power and I had the feeling at a certain point that discrepancies within the governing coalition exist and I had the illusion, at some point, that the Opposition matters, because web were summoned to a meeting with the group leaders," Pruna added. 

In her opinion, the current Power demands the Opposition a vote for "an economic sleight of hand". 

The People's Movement Party (PMP) deputy Eugen Tomac said with the same occasion that the Black Sea must not be taken for a lake, the Belina lake, for instance (in southern County of Teleorman, ed. n.), and that the resources of Romania must be handled with utmost responsibility. 

He said he is waiting for the PSD-ALDE gov't, apart from the Offshore Law, to show up with a strategy as regards the "gas-firing Romania", adding that the access to the resource is not enough without considering the population. 

"We only have 32pct of the gas-fired dwellings in Romania. This reality compels the Romanian state, the Romanian gov't to have a visionary approach as regards the way we use the state's resources (...) I'm aware that if we overbid with the taxation, we risk to turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake. (...) That is why I'm asking you: are you ready to come forward with a strategy to extend the gas network for Romania's population? Because it is not at all normal for a country with such resources to only have 30pct of its population connected to the gas network," Eugen Tomac stressed. 

The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) supports the adoption of an offshore law, balanced from the viewpoint of the financial gains for both the Romanian state and the concession-holder, the said political formation deputy Benedek Zacharie said on Monday. 

"Thus, we find it natural to ensure a stable, predictable environment for investors, in a reasonable time horizon, and yet we also deem it natural that the Romanian state and implicitly each citizen of this country deserve a fair benefit of the underground reserves. We cannot agree with the initial variant of the draft law, by which the Romanian state only received the royalty from the exploitation of the Black Sea's riches, a variant agreed by the investors. Likewise, from where it stands, the UDMR believes that the expansion of the natural gas's distribution systems to a higher proportion of the population is mandatory," Benedek Zacharie told the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies.

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