Property rights are a core issue for ELO members and partners. 2015 was a busy year for the Secretariat who organized or participated in several conferences or debates linked to ownership or land management, taking place as well in Brussels as in various Members States i.e. in France, Poland and Romania.
The ELO believes that private ownership and property rights are the foundation of prosperous rural areas and continued entrepreneurship. In order to showcase our thinking, the secretariat has demonstrated that the best solutions for different land
uses such as farming, forestry, hunting, outdoor activities and many others can be found in the maintenance of private ownership and property rights; these form the basis that allow rural areas to safely develop their businesses and deliver the benefits to the broader community.
In order to defend these rights, the ELO actively supports its members and partners when it comes to legal procedures in areas such as inheritance, non-discrimination for private owners when it comes to state support, as well as expropriations by Member States. For example, this year the ELO has supported its Spanish members when an increasing number of local administrations wished to designat
e every path in their municipality of public use, even when these have historically been private.
All year long special attention was dedicated to the issue of access to agricultural land, especially through national policies discussed or implemented mainly in the so-called New Member States. The European Commission has opened infringement procedures against Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia related to national restrictions on investment in agricultural land (formal decision, 26th March 2015). In its procedures, the EC has asked their respective governments to comment on their (new) laws which regulate the sale and purchase of agricultural land, observing that “these laws contain several provisions which, under EU law, may be considered to restrict the free movement of capital and freedom of establishment. Any restriction of these basic Treaty freedoms must be justified and comply with the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality. While Member States are permitted to set their own rules to promote rural development, to keep land in agricultural use and avoid speculative pressure on land prices, this must be done within the limits of EU law1 ”.
As the transitional period, where some strictures on land sale were permitted, ends in Poland in May 2016, the ELO has seen worrying new national proposals which may present a distortion of the EU internal market. While the ELO agrees that each Member State can freely choose policies towards agricultural land such as promoting land-lease contracts between private agents and the state, we insist that such solutions should not be discriminatory towards any EU citizen, inside the Member State or out.
A second issue with regards to property rights is the debate on access to agricultural land, especially when placed in the context that many see China’s growing presence in African agriculture as land grabbing. The ELO believes that there is no similar process going on in Europe, and will therefore continue to secure the right to access to land by all EU citizens or enterprises within the European Union. In 2016 ELO will continue to advocate for property rights demonstrating best practices in land and forestry management, i.e. during the opening events of the 9th FFA or organized directly by its members (in April in Italy, in August in France, in October in Poland) or by participating in such projects as FORBIO or REVAB to foster responsible ownership or management of various types of land.