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EU court lifts restrictions on buying agricultural land in Bulgaria

2024-01-19   |  Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg

The EU Court of Justice lifted the restrictions EU citizens face when buying agricultural land in Bulgaria in a ruling published on Thursday, more than 17 years after the country joined the block.

Obstacles should have already been removed in 2014. Still, the Bulgarian parliament adopted changes to the Law on the Ownership and Use of Agricultural Lands, which created serious obstacles for EU citizens even though this went against the EU treaty law.

Particularly problematic for the EU court was the Bulgarian law, which provides that people who have resided in Bulgaria for over five years can acquire ownership rights to agricultural land, though this rule did not apply only to agricultural land.

“Thus, that legislation restricts the free movement of capital enshrined in Article 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” the EU Court ruled.

View the full text of the court judgement

In its judgement, the court also noted that the EU Treaty does not allow the existence of laws in a member state that imposes such restrictions.

The case was first brought by Austrian citizens living in Bulgaria, who sought ownership of three fields near the Black Sea city of Burgas. In 2012 – five years after Bulgaria’s accession to the EU – citizens of EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries gained the right to buy non-agricultural land there.

For agricultural land, the restrictions were due to be lifted on 1 January 2014, but this did not happen because of a legislative proposal by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (PES), which then began to drift towards more nationalist positions. Parliament accepted the PES proposal without listing a reason, and the European Commission then initiated proceedings against Bulgaria.

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