Hungarian candidate backs ban on foreign ownership of farmland

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Deutsche Presse Agentur | 4 February 2010

Dairy farmers protesting in Budapest (Photo: Attila Kisbenedek)

Budapest - The Hungarian government should quickly negotiate an extension to a ban on foreigners acquiring farmland, the governing Hungarian Socialist Party's prime ministerial candidate said on Thursday. Attila Mesterhazy told reporters that restrictions on the purchase of agricultural land by buyers from other European Union countries should be extended by three years as the price of Hungarian farmland had not caught up with the European average.

Farmland in Hungary is up to five times cheaper than in neighbouring Austria and the structure of land ownership has not been brought in line with European norms, Mesterhazy said.

The EU's core principal of the free movement of capital means that member states are not permitted to impose restrictions on the purchase of property by citizens or companies from another member state.

However, fears of a land grab by wealthier western EU countries prompted Hungary, and most of the members that joined in 2004, to negotiate temporary derogations in the case of agricultural land.

The derogation is due to expire in May 2011, seven years after the countries joined the EU.

However, Hungary is one of several countries that included "safeguard clauses" that make a three year extension possible, subject to a thorough review by Brussels.

Mesterhazy said Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai is in favour of an extension to the ban and would instruct Agriculture Minister Jozsef Graf to take the necessary steps.

Land ownership is an emotive matter in Hungary and has already been made a central issue in the general election campaigns of the Socialist's main rival, the centre-right party Fidesz, and the nationalist party Jobbik.

Amid rising concern among farmers and smallholders, a state secretary from the agriculture ministry told state owned Duna TV in January that an extension to the current ban is theoretically possible.

"The Agriculture Ministry is looking at international means by which an individual EU member state can block speculative capital," Zoltan Gogos said.

Elections are due to be held on April 11, and opinion polls have Fidesz far ahead of the Socialists.
Original source: DPA
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