The Romanian Government plans to establish a social assistance fund for domestic natural gas consumers aimed at helping them avoid spiraling prices until late 2008, PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu announced on Tuesday. He made the statement following talks with Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer, head of the Austrian group OMV, which holds a majority stake in Romanian oil company Petrom.

The news comes as Romanian authorities intensified talks related to the privatization contract by which OMV took control of Petrom, the confidential annexes of which have sparked an outcry in the Romanian media, which interpreted them as proof OMV wants to recover the Petrom investment via higher prices, at the expense of Romanian customers.

Ruttenstorfer also held talks with President Traian Basescu on Monday, focusing on Romania’s energy security and the social impact of alligning Romanian energy prices with the European ones.

According to PM Tariceanu, “we have agreed in principle to find a solution to prevent increasing prices to domestic consumers until the end of 2008, given the necessity to bring them in line with prices applied at world level. To put it more bluntly, to find a formula to have these prices stop increasing”.

A final decision in this regard would be taken following future talks between the two parties.