EC officially announces assessment of Hungarian land law


European Commission (EC) spokesperson Chantal Hughes today said that the EC is analyzing Hungary's land act to determine if it is in harmony with European Union rules, based on a request from the Austrian agriculture ministry.

If the EC finds the law does not conform to EU norms, “the necessary steps to ensure that the [relevant] measures are amended,” stated Hughes.

Austrian Agriculture Minister Andrä Rupprechter said on Monday that the EC had promised Austria it would assess the land act and that consultations had already taken place with EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier.

Rupprechter’s Hungarian counterpart Sándor Fazekas responded by labeling Rupprechter's talks on the land act in Brussels “another unfriendly step,” alleging that Rupprechter has been “continually insulting Hungarians and continually reporting on us.

“For decades, Hungarian law has been violated and circumvented, a practice which must be stopped,” Fazekas continued. “Mr. Rupprechter is defending the tricksters instead of accepting that Austrian law must be respected in Austria and Hungarian law in Hungary.”

Hungary's Parliament amended the land act in February to prevent Austrian farmers who earlier signed "pocket contracts" – agreements on the sale of certain tracts of borderland farmland when purchase by foreign nationals from EU member states was otherwise still prohibited – from taking legal ownership of the land they purchased.

In a letter sent to MTI, Hughes wrote that restrictions on land sales to people from other EU countries are regarded by the Union as a restriction of free movement of capital: “Nevertheless in certain cases, restrictions to these freedoms can be accepted if they are proportionate, justified and serve the general interest.”

The EC is reviewing whether the restrictions contained in Hungary’s recently-passed new law are justified by policy objectives or for other reasons, according to Hughes, and the question of expropriation of Austrian farmers currently using farmland in Hungary will be considered a separate issue by the Commission.

“Provided that the underlying contracts are valid under national law, depriving land users of the value of their investments without compensation raises concerns with regard to compatibility with EU law,” Hughes wrote in part. This echoes Rupprechter’s longstanding complaint regarding the law, namely that it “strips Austrian farmers of their rights to benefit from Hungarian farmland … [for] which they have paid in advance to recipients.”

-- material from national news service MTI was used in this article

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