In a sign of what to expect if US corporate interests are allowed free reign in Europe, as outlined by the planned transatlantic trade deal, an alliance of oil giant Chevron and the Romanian state has evicted villagers opposed to exploration for shale gas.
The country’s rural inhabitants who earn their livelihoods from small-scale farming know that industrialisation of the countryside is completely inimical to their way of life. For months, direct action has been their only option for resisting. But last week, an occupation of the site at Pungesti was forcibly ended in a dawn raid.
However, no sooner had the site been secured than the villagers were back, hauling down the steel fences and engaging in a confrontation with government/private security forces. This inspiring show of people’s strength has not yet not been enough to deter Chevron. The local village has effectively been turned into an armed camp to prevent further protest and the corporation has started activities on the site.
The way Romania’s democratic process is unravelling reflects the plans of energy and mineral extraction companies for the country. The government intends to make industrial interests sovereign above all existing rights to livelihood and property in the name of the “strategic national interest”.
This is in fact exactly what the ConDems in the UK have tried to achieve in order to open the door to fracking in Britain. The only difference is that to placate local communities, the priority given to natural resources over environmental protection was worked into the guidelines given to local councils who officially still grant planning applications.
In Romania, with a public that is less well-informed and with much higher rates of poverty than western European nations, it becomes even easier for the spurious “national interest” line to legitimise any unwanted development and the state violence needed to enforce it.
In recognition of these changes that give corporate rights priority, the status of the country’s politicians has changed dramatically, as an activist in Romania explains.
Parliamentarians are no longer considered public officials and hence are immune to all charges or accusations of conflict of interest, misconduct or abuse of function. Officially then, politicians do not serve the people and have immunity in the same way that corporations are protected from action brought against them by people or states. At the same time, insulting public figures has become a criminal offence!
This onslaught against democracy in Romania lays the groundwork for the dreaded “Mine Law”, written for the benefit of a single corporation that wants to destroy the Rosia Montana mountain region in order to carry out cyanide gold mining.
Aware of the influence of the American state in all this, the activist concludes: “Someone in the EU worked closely with someone in America in order for this to happen. Romania is the testing ground, the European Argentina. Romania is the precedent.”
These nightmare laws are there to protect the state as the enforcer of corporate affairs in the 21st century. The role played by state officials, legal systems and above all the police serves a dual function. They allow the extraction and use of fossil fuel and natural resources, which is driving climate change, while keeping human rights subservient to the need to consume these goods.
Politicians hide behind this farce to claim this is all necessary, while terrorising us by any means possible. In Romania and throughout much of the world, the corporations are beginning to sense that they can use naked violence to get their way.
To counter this social crisis, which has converged with an ecological catastrophe, we need to draw strength from the progress human beings have made in the past in the struggle for democracy. We can establish states that provide the foundations of social justice and care and opportunities for all to flourish. Some positive proposals which can help us reach this goal are outlined in our new book, Fracking Capitalism. Get a copy if you haven’t already done so!