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EU extends Lithuania, Slovakia's land bans to 2014

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(VILNIUS) - Brussels has approved an extension to 2014 of Lithuania and Slovakia's bans on farmland sales to foreigners, seen as crucial to prevent speculation, Vilnius said Thursday.

"I see this as a very positive decision because it will allow us to strengthen our farmers," Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Kazys Starkevicius told AFP.

"It will help to prevent speculation," he added.

Lithuania and Slovakia were among four ex-communist countries which asked for a green light to extend the transitional periods, after Hungary and Latvia.

The four joined the European Union in 2004 and had originally been given the right, until May this year, to maintain restrictions in order to stop investors from richer member states from skewing their farmland markets.

They turned to the European Commission -- the 27-nation EU's executive body -- because they said it was too early to drop the ban.

Hungary won its extension in December and Latvia, last week.

"Lifting the current restrictions will exert pressure on the agricultural land markets of these countries and threaten to cause serious disturbances," the European Commission said in a statement Thursday.

However, it also urged the four countries to speed up efforts to complete ongoing structural reforms in their farm sectors and warned that 2014 was the final limit.

Starkevicius said the sale-ban's extension was only fair, given that farmers in the EU's new member states receive a far smaller cut of funds paid out to their counterparts in Western nations under the bloc's Common Agricultural Policy.

According to Lithuanian law, the ownership restrictions do not apply to foreigners who have been farming as tenants in the country for the past three years or to foreign firms with agencies in the Baltic nation.

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