Land Access and Property Rights

The pandemic outbreak proved once again how important the connection with nature is for us humans.

Numerous lockdowns across Europe combined with travel restrictions relaunched an interest in oneโ€™s neighboring countryside and rediscovery of the local landscape. Many private estates kindly opened their parks and forests to the general public to allow all generations to enjoy the fresh air while still respecting social distancing. However, this did bring up again the question of property rights and responsibility. SOME Examples include the unauthorised use of private roads and pathways, the protection of nature and wildlife on private land from additional disturbances or the need to reinforce such basic gestures of keeping used masks instead of throwing them away in the wild.

The topic of property rights is at the cornerstone of the European Landownersโ€™ Organisationโ€™s (ELO) activities since its creation. ELO believes that the four freedoms of the EU - free movement of goods, persons, services and capital - should be applied across all the Member States as it is only then, and in accordance with the rule of law, that a well-functioning land and forestry market can be assured - so vital for a sustainable and profitable European countryside. Therefore, in relation to the ongoing discussions on the recovery plan, budget and final stage of the CAP reform, ELO published in February the paper on โ€œAccess to Land and the Politics of Scaleโ€ (for more information see the Publication section).ย 

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In addition, on a daily basis, ELO was advocating for the rights of our members to ensure a diverse and multifunctional rural economy and access to basic services as well as keeping jobs in the sector. 2020 also kept us busy dealing with themes such as taxation, inheritance, land tenure contracts, and ownership and management of land. That allows us to guarantee that our members have the right information and tools to face the numerous challenges, while making certain that their basic rights are respected.ย 

Our newest Policy paper: Full version & Executive summary

ELO is founded on the belief that property rights are the cornerstone of the European Union, and that the four fundamental freedoms - free movement of goods, persons, services and capital - should be applied across all the Members States. In addition, well-functioning land and forestry markets are vital for sustainable and profitable European countryside.

The European Unionโ€™s Four Freedoms do not exclude national intervention; however, it is important that policy interventions normalise a wide range of differing structures of ownership, which include physical and juridical persons, companies with shareholders, family trusts and settlements. Taking into account the specific nature of agricultural land, we believe restrictions of property rights are harmful and can lead to market distortions and discriminatory (land) laws. Since 1989, restitution, privatisation and the normalisation of land law have been of particular importance in the countries of the former Communist Bloc, and in several cases unresolved issues continue to give rise to distortions. This is currently happening in Poland, which is still without a general law on restitution and has a discriminatory law restricting land sales and ownership for farmland on its books. ELO also shared its opinion on potential ideas which may breach EU laws in the ongoing discussions on access to land taking place in Romania and Croatia.

In relation to the CAP reform, 2019 was also an important year to give concrete solutions to the new entrants, allowing them to have an income, a decent livelihood and ensuring that the next generation is willing to take over in order to keep a thriving countryside. Therefore, ELO played an active role in the workshop on โ€˜Farmland Market Regulation,โ€™ organized in June by DG FISAM and DG AGRI, hosting around 70 participants representing Member States, stakeholder organisations, land agencies, and academics. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss challenges for farmland markets, with the intent of supporting Member States to keep regulation in line with EU law and to exchange best practices regarding new challenges such as share deal transactions in farmland. Special attention was placed on the implication of CJEU judgments: C-235/17 Commission v. Hungary of 21 May 2019 and Joint cases C-52/16 and C-113/16 โ€“ SEGRO and Horvรกth of 6 March 2018. As underlined in the summary of the workshop: โ€œBoth judgments were very important for farmland market regulation, each on different aspects of the EU law. They not only confirmed what could be concluded from previous jurisprudence, but also went beyond in clarifying investorsโ€™ rights, what constitutes discrimination as well as the interplay between fundamental freedoms and fundamental rights. The 2019 judgment has shed light on the right to property, in particular that it applies next to fundamental freedoms and that it extends to forms of indirect expropriation.โ€

2019 kept us busy advocating for the rights of our members as ELO believes that a long-term vision and legal stability are a must in order to have a diverse and multifunctional rural economy and to ensure employment in the sector. It is also much more important to introduce positive incentives than to impose restrictions on access to agricultural land and forestry.

We will continue dealing with topics such as taxation, inheritance, land tenure contracts, and ownership and management of land, on a daily basis to ensure that our members have the right information and tools to face numerous challenges while ensuring that their basics rights are respected.

copyright Natta 2019

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