Bulgarian MPs voted on February 15 to overturn President Roumen Radev’s veto on the bill meant to modify the rules for changing the status of lands designated for agricultural use. The motion carried with 124 MPs in favour, 73 opposed and six abstentions.
The two parties in the government coalition, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB and the United Patriots group of nationalist parties, were joined by Volya, the smallest party in the National Assembly, in overturning the veto, with the votes against coming from the opposition socialists and predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
The bill in question, amending the law on seeds and plant materials, contained additional provisions that modified sections of the Farmland Protection Act on the regulations for changing the status of farmlands – a necessary legal step if such lands were to be used for real estate development.
In a statement on February 2, the president’s office said that the amended regulations would weaken the special constitutional protections afforded to farmlands. Currently the designation of farmlands can be changed as a first step towards property development only in exceptional cases where there is a proven and clear need to do so.
But the bill features a number of procedural modifications that would make it easier for land owners to change the status of farmlands, such as no longer requiring a detailed site development plan as part of the land designation change proceedings.
“These regulatory changes will stimulate farmland owners to change their status and, for a prolonged period of time, not carry out any development, waiting for a convenient moment of investor interest,” the presidency said in its veto motives.
During the debate preceding the vote, GERB made no attempt to defend the bill, prompting socialist MP Kroum Zarkov to accuse the senior partner in the ruling coalition of “fearing the reaction” of people who felt that the legislative changes would make encourage real estate and commercial re-development of farmland.
The government is already dealing with backlash for its decision to authorise the construction of a second ski lift in the winter resort of Bansko. Environmental activists have said that this would will clear the way for new real estate development in the town, including in areas from the Pirin national park, an accusation that the government has rejected.
But the United Patriots, who are strongly in favour of the second Bansko lift, have defended the bill’s provisions on changing farmland status, saying that the veto was too vague while the changes will have a positive impact on thousands of Bulgarian land owners.
(Bulgarian Parliament photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)