Bulgarian Socialist Party to propose new restrictions on foreigners owning farmland

In spite of the Constitutional Court having thrown out a parliamentary resolution seeking an extension on the moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is trying a new route – this time proposing that natural and legal persons must have been in Bulgaria for at least three years before being allowed to buy agricultural land.

The Constitutional Court rejected the late 2013 parliamentary resolution because it was in breach of the constitution and of Bulgaria’s European Union membership treaty that provided for the moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners to expire as of January 1 2014.

BSP MP Svetla Buchvarova told reporters on February 12 that the proposal would be tabled as amendments to legislation on agricultural land ownership and use.

According to BSP MP Yanaki Stoilov, the bill would “solve two problems”.

The first was “how to ensure the farmers a real opportunity to use the pastures” and the other “how to create certain requirements for the acquisition of agricultural land that are within conditions acceptable to the EU”.

“For this reason we are proposing that ownership of agricultural land and forest land for agricultural use be acquired by natural and legal persons who have resided continuously in the Republic of Bulgaria for more than three years immediately preceding the year of the transaction,” Stoilov said.

He said that this meant that the land would be used for production and not for speculation.

The amendments, which the BSP intends before the second-reading stage of the bill, would also seek to close the loophole about foreigners from outside the EU buying agricultural land via Bulgarian-registered companies.

According to Buchvarova, “there is no country in the world where this market is fully liberalised”.

She said that the second part of the amendments was “linked to our commitment and principled view that farmers who own holdings should have access to the meadows and pastures, which so far was not a fact in law”.

She said that the advantage of this was that it would result in the possibility of municipal and state grazing land being provided without an auction, based on market price based also on holdings and number of animals.

“The remaining grassland that can be distributed among farmers, will be available at auction. Thus we believe that the competitiveness of Bulgarian livestock will be guaranteed,” Buchvarova said.

The issue of land ownership by foreigners has been a difficult one for Bulgaria’s current ruling axis.

It is a signature issue for xenophobic ultra-nationalists Ataka, while the Movement for Rights and Freedoms strongly opposed attempts to continue restrictions on sales of land to foreigners.

When the 2013 – now-defunct – resolution was approved, it got the nod from several BSP MPs who voted against the party line. Socialist support for the extension of the moratorium at the time infuriated the MRF, and as part of damage control within the governing coalition, the BSP eventually provided the requisite number of signatures for the Constitutional Court to be petitioned on the issue.

Ataka has said that it was launching a public petition to call for a referendum an extended moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners. But barring the erection of large billboards depicting a large black lion with the words “hands off Bulgarian land”, nothing has been heard from the troubled ultra-nationalist party about how many signatures it says it has got in support of this petition.

Nor has Ataka explained how it imagines that a “yes” vote in a referendum on the issue would not be futile in view of the existing decision by the Constitutional Court.

At the beginning of 2014, the agriculture minister in the current government, Dimitar Grekov, was asked by reporters how much interest there was among foreigners in buying agricultural land in Bulgaria.

He replied: “zero”.

(Photo: Dido Ivanov)




The Sofia Globe staff

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