EU land policy remains somewhat undefined and uncoordinated. While access to land is clearly affected by a range of EU policies and regulations, most member States and EU institutions are reluctant to address this issue in their debate and to develop policy proposals opposing land grabbing, limiting land concentration, facilitating access to land for new entrants and ensuring good land stewardship. Recently, starting with a concern for land grabbing in the global South, some European institutions have started to explore land gabbing occurring in Europe, and to pay attention to land concentration, access to land and land preservation.
In 2004, the European Council and Parliament endorsed the 2004 EU Land Policy Guidelines: Guidelines for Support to Land Policy Design and Land Policy Reform Process in Development Countries. These guidelines contained many progressive elements and crucially recognised the fact that access to land and its resources was connected to the realisation of a number of fundamental human rights. However, even though these guidelines have been endorsed, very little recognition is afforded to them. On the other hand, Europe itself has been the target of land grabbing. In the past five years, Western European and non EU companies have been massively accumulating and speculating on land in Eastern Europe.
EU public money, through subsidies paid under the Common Agricultural Policy, supports this concentration of land. Having direct subsidies channelled per hectare of farmland favours large farms and marginalizes small farms; it also fuels land price increases. At the same time, direct subsidies combined with inadequate support measures for new entrants concur to hamper the entry by prospective farmers.
In 2014, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on land grabbing in the EU: Land grabbing – a wake-up call for Europe and an imminent threat to family farming. After consulting a range of public, private and civil society actors, and conducting a fact-finding mission in Romania, it organised a public hearing in Brussels, to debate the preliminary draft opinion. EESC called on the European Authorities to discuss whether the free movement of capital into land acquisitions should be unrestricted. In the EESC view “the member states must be given more opportunities to regulate and limit their respective markets for agricultural land.”
In 2015, at the request of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) of the European Parliament, the Transnational Institute (TNI) created a report on the extent of farm land grabbing in the European Union. The study, Extent of Farmland Grabbing in the EU, looks at the rise of large-scale land deals and land grabbing in the EU. It finds significant evidence that farmland grabbing is under-way in the EU today. It discusses a number of the drivers of farmland grabbing in the EU and examines the impacts of farmland grabbing for European food security and food sovereignty, rural employment and vitality, and environmental sustainability. It argues that farmland grabbing, especially when connected to other burning European land issues, calls for a reform of European land governance.
Recently, a number of our organisations, together with Via Campesina Europe, submitted a petition to the European Parliament to further call its attention to land preservation, land concentration, and access to land. This petition “Preserving and managing European farmland as our common wealth”, received broad support from over 70 EU-based and national civil society organisations. The latter are calling upon the European Parliament to adopt a position on sustainable and fair EU governance of agricultural land, and to call upon the European Commission to adapt existing regulations and policies and develop future ones so that they contribute to preserving and managing farmland as our common wealth.
Read more on the CSO Petition to the European Parliament