Romania’s upper parliament house has approved the privatisation of the country’s leading gas and power distribution firms, bringing the drawn-out sales process nearer to finalisation. Taking the distributors out of public hands is a key element in the restructuring of the country’s ailing power industry, as demanded by international lenders and the European Union, which Romania hopes to join in 2007.

In July, Romania sold power distributors Electrica Dobrogea and Electrica Banat to Italy’s Enel, which will pay €12 million for majority stakes in them. Last month it sold gas firm Distrigaz Nord to Ruhrgas, a unit of German utility E.On for €304 million and Distrigaz Sud to France’s Gaz de France in a €311 million deal.

Analysts say that such key privatisations could trigger a revamp of the economy and attract much-needed foreign direct investment.

Privatisation bills for the four companies must yet be approved by the Romanian lower house.