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EC to arbitrate Austria-Hungary farm dispute; Fazekas miffed

EU

Tension between Austrian and Hungarian agricultural ministries is escalating, with yet another salvo in the war of words fired from this side yesterday. To wit: Hungary’s Agriculture Minister Sándor Fazekas complained that Austrian counterpart Andrä Rupprechter has “taken another unfriendly step” in appealing to the European Commission (EC) to help settle the large-scale border dispute. 

Said step was to involve European Union Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, who has sent an official communiqué on the matter to Rupprechter, which the Austrian minister stated included a promise to assess Hungarian land law with specific regard to ownership of some 200 borderland farms.

The direct-appeal route represents something of an end-around run for Rupprechter, as earlier this month, he’d had Austria’s official criticism of Hungarian land laws removed from an upcoming EU ministerial agenda; naturally, Fazekas saw this as “a step in the right direction.” At that time, Fazekas maintained that “the EU ministers’ council did not have the authority to discuss the matter.” (Perhaps by going to the EC, Rupprechter was indicating his agreement with Fazekas…?)

Fazekas again denied the necessity of outside arbitration (or even an Austrian say, apparently), stating that “This is a Hungarian issue and it is our job to settle it,” while 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. Mr. Rupprechter is defending the tricksters instead of accepting that Austrian law must be respected in Austria and Hungarian law in Hungary.”

The central matter of the dispute lies in so-called “pocket contracts” on Hungarian farmland bordering Austria. Fazekas described said contracts, created during previous administrations, were used to “circumvent Hungarian legal regulations and the moratorium on land purchases by foreigners.”

The extant land law was modified earlier this month, removing much of the validity of the pocket contracts.

Rupprechter meanwhile stands by his contention that the law “strips Austrian farmers of their rights to benefit from Hungarian farmland … [for] which they have paid in advance to recipients,” further stating that the legislation is in violation of European Union law.

About 200 Austrian farmers who have amassed a combined 200,000 hectares of land in Hungary in the period since 1994 could be affected. The combined acreage represents a proportion of some 14.67% of arable land in Austria and 4.55% in Hungary.

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