LAND MARKET HAS DIVIDED PARLIAMENTARY AD-HOC COMMITTEE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
The liberalization of the land market with which Bulgaria's future admission to the European Union (EU) has been bound, turned out a serious stumbling block in the discussions of the Constitution's second amendment. The project, whose drafting was assigned to the parliamentary ad-hoc committee for constitutional amendments, chaired by Ms. Kameliya Kassabova, became especially topical due to Bulgaria's wish to sign the pre-accession contract with the EU not later than 2005. Its discussion started in the beginning of September and the amendments are to be moved to the plenary hall and voted by december at the latest. Forecasts that the most heated debates will be caused by the issues regarding the restriction of rights of the Investigation Service and the permission to foreign natural and juristic persons to buy agricultural land in Bulgaria have been justified so far. The entire meeting on September 14 for example passed in arguments about the amendment to article 22 of the Constitution, allowing foreigners and foreign companies to acquire ownership rights on agricultural land in bulgaria only by inheritance. But even in that case, they shall be obliged to transfer their ownership to Bulgarian citizens within the term, stipulated in the Ownership Act. This provision, however, is incompatible with the principles of the common European market and in the process of pre-accession negotiations on the Free Movement of Goods chapter it is logical for Bulgaria to undertake a commitment to liberalize the regime (although with a 7-year grace period). But the pending second amendment to the Constitution gave grounds to some of the MPs to plead for lifting the restrictions on the purchase of land, not only for citizens of the EU but for all other foreigners as well. The text for amending article 22 was moved by Ekaterina Mihailova, Chairwoman of UDF's parliamentary group. The proposal has been supported as well by some representatives of the NMSII. Lawyer Borislav Ralchev, for instance, believes it is needless to set legislative bans, which are anyway practically evaded. He justifies his stance by the multiple deals in villa estates in the countryside, by which foreigners also acquire the agricultural yards where they are located. The lawyer from the BSP Yanaki Stoilov, however, believes that at the present stage the lifting of the ban should concern EU citizens only. According to him, an entirely new constitutional text is not even necessary for the purpose. The amendment could be made by an ordinary supplement to the currently effective regulation. This proposal has been principally supported by the National Assembly chairpersons Kameliya Kassabova and Lyuben Kornezov. Although it seems somewhat discriminating, Mr. Stoilov's proposal is probably more reasonable. Deputies from various political formations recalled that the entire liberalization of the land market hides serious risks of entrance of dubious capitals in the country. Anyway, it would be difficult to foresee which of the two proposals will result in an actual stir-up of the market of agricultural land. The European Commission has repeatedly pointed out that agricultural land prices in Bulgaria are low as a whole and owners refrain from selling in expectation of more advantageous offers. High costs for the transference of ownership, the fragmentation of land plots, and the chaos in land registers, should be added. All theses things cannot be changes by constitutional amendments and regulations.