Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said on April 14 that he vetoed the amendments to the Agricultural Land Ownership and Use Act, which imposed residence requirements on foreigners and companies wanting to buy land in the country.
Plevneliev said in a statement that the amendments breached both Bulgaria’s constitution and European Union law.
The bill, passed earlier this month, includes a ban on offshore companies buying agricultural land, as well as a requirement that foreigners and companies wanting to buy land must have been in Bulgaria for at least five years – an increase from an initially-proposed three years.
The bill of amendments follows a failed attempt by the National Assembly to extend the moratorium on foreigners being allowed to buy land in Bulgaria from its scheduled expiry date of January 1 2014 to the beginning of 2020. Approved amid controversy, including division among the parties of the ruling axis, the resolution to extend the moratorium was rejected by the Constitutional Court.
But by making land purchases hinge on residence, rather than citizenship, the National Assembly effectively banned Bulgarian nationals living outside the country from buying agricultural land, Plevneliev argued.
“More than two million Bulgarian citizens abroad will not have the right to buy land – instead of creating the conditions to carry out business activities and growing the economy through investment in agriculture, the legislator is creating obstacles,” he said.
The provisions of the bill also allow a “contradictory interpretation” that could see nationals of non-EU states purchase agricultural land, which should otherwise only be possible if their respective country of citizenship has an international agreement with Bulgaria, ratified by two-thirds majority in Parliament, that specifically allows such purchases, Plevneliev said.
Additionally, the restrictions on EU nationals buying land were a breach of EU’s freedom of movement principle.
“In the past few years, the Bulgarian public and institutions have had numerous reasons to protest against acts by EU member states, which imposed limits on Bulgarian nationals. We have justifiably opposed restrictions on the right to work, free movement and residence, because we do not wish Bulgarian nationals to be treated with discrimination and in breach of fundamental European principles. All such demands will look baseless if, at the same time, Bulgarian Parliament imposes restrictions on nationals of other EU member states,” Plevneliev said.