Parliament’s vote on extending ban on sale of land to foreigners could head to Constitutional Court

The Bulgarian Parliament’s vote to approve a call by ultra-nationalist Ataka party leader Volen Siderov to extend the moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners to the year 2020 could result in a Constitutional Court case – as well as a penalty procedure by the European Commission.

As part of Bulgaria’s accession treaty with the European Union, the moratorium on the sale of land to foreign individuals and juristic persons is due to expire on January 1 2014.

But on October 22, after a lengthy debate, the 42nd National Assembly approved a call for the ban to be extended to 2020 and for the Cabinet to act to ensure this by coming up with legislation, which Parliament would have to approve.

The Siderov resolution was approved by 171 votes to 38, with 12 abstentions. The resolution was supported by 89 MPs from Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, 59 MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the current holders of the mandate to govern, and all 23 Ataka MPs.

Those voting against were 34 MPs from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and four from the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The 12 abstentions were all MPs from the BSP, which said after the vote that it had given its MPs a free vote on the matter.

MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan said that the vote to extend the moratorium was “absolutely groundless” and said that he would approach the Constitutional Court to overturn it, while appealing for President Rossen Plevneliev to do the same.

On the day of the vote, Plevneliev told reporters that Bulgaria should be sticking to commitments that it had made to the EU.

The MRF said that the decision would undermine Bulgaria’s status in the EU and that the question could have been resolved without bringing into question Bulgaria’s status as a full member of the EU.

A call for President Plevneliev to approach the Constitutional Court on the issue also came from outside Parliament, from Meglena Kouneva, formerly Bulgaria’s chief negotiator on EU accession, later EU affairs minister and then an EU Commissioner, and now leader of a political party that is part of the extra-parliamentary Reformist Bloc.

Kouneva said that it seemed that the ground was being laid for Bulgaria’s exit from the EU, either “because of incompetence, deliberately or simply because they do not see another opportunity to win elections in Bulgaria”.

Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), Kouneva said that foreigners in general and the EU in particular were being treated as the enemy.

If foreigners could not buy Bulgarian land, protection of Bulgarian land would worsen because the only money in Bulgaria that went to agriculture came from the EU.

Tatyana Doncheva, a lawyer and former BSP MP, now leader of the leftist “Movement 21”, called the vote in Parliament “stupid”.

Bulgaria had a problem with the sale of land to foreigners while the moratorium was in force, and in recent years, there had been large-scale purchases of Bulgarian land by foreigners through companies registered in Bulgaria or Bulgarian citizens.

BNR quoted a spokesperson for the European Commission as saying that the EC did not have the authority to extend the ban on selling arable land in Bulgaria to foreigners.

Bulgaria had a transitional period in which to prepare for the full opening of the agricultural land market to foreigners and was expected to so according to the previously agreed 2014 deadline, the spokesperson was reported to have said.

Bulgaria is threatened by a penalty procedure if it prolonged the moratorium on selling arable land to foreigners.

Should Bulgaria want the moratorium to remain in force after the beginning of 2014, the consent of all 27 other EU member states would be required, effectively meaning a review of Bulgaria’s accession treaty and re-ratification by all 28 member states.

The EC has recently rejected a similar proposal from Romania, media in Bucharest said. Brussels turned down proposals by the Romanian government for gradual liberalisation of the sale of land to foreigners so that the free market in land would not start from January 1 2014 as originally planned, Romanian media said.

Separately, a report by Darik Radio in Bulgaria said that all that it took for a foreigner to skirt the moratorium was the two leva (one euro) minimum capital to found a company.

(Photo: photo by Margarit.Ralev.Com)




The Sofia Globe staff

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