Access to Land is of crucial importance to economic and social development. It is the bedrock of economic and social life in both urban residential areas and the countryside. Land policies define the legal rights and conditions of access and/or ownership to this inherent resource and regulate its distribution among multiple stakeholders. Thus, land policies also reflect the relations and political choices regarding the distribution of power between the state, its citizens, and local systems of authority.
Furthermore, agricultural land is a resource of the utmost importance in many parts of Europe. This constitutes an asset and a source of income for rural families and communities, as well as a source of strong cultural and spiritual values. Ownership and control of land confers very significant political power, particularly in regions where land is becoming scarce.
Land is a valuable resource
Land is never just a commodity. It combines its productive power with its role as family or community property, a capital asset and a source of identity. A coherent land policy aims to achieve objectives relating to the security and distribution of land rights, land use and land management, and access to land, including the various forms of tenure under which it is held. It defines the principles and rules governing property rights over land and the natural resources it bears as well as the legal methods of access and use, and acceptance and transfer of these rights. It details the conditions under which land use and development can take place, its administration, the means by which these rights are ratified and administered, and how information about land holdings is managed. It also specifies the structures in charge of implementing legislation, land management and arbitration of conflicts.
The importance of a coherent land policy
Land policy is contained in texts issued by intergovernmental bodies and governments, and is further developed through legislation, decrees, rules and regulations governing the operation of institutions established for the purposes of land administration, the management of land rights, and land use planning.
Policies over land lie at the heart of economic and social life and environmental issues in all countries and regions. Inequitable land distribution, land tenure problems and weak land administration can lead to severe injustice and conflict. Changes to legislation and administrative structures are likely to have long-term consequences for political, economic and social development. Similarly land policy is crucial for environmental sustainability as it can create incentives for sustainable land-use and environmental management.
Here we will shareanalyses, resources and recommendations regarding international, European and national policies affecting access to land.
There is currently one major instrument regulating land policies at the international level: the Tenure Guidelines, adopted by the Committee of Food Security of the United Nations in 2012. These Guidelines promote a human rights approach to access to land and other resources, and constitute a major reference for improving policies regulating land use and management.
Access to land is directly and indirectly affected by many European policies, among which the Common Agricultural Policy, competition and investment law, environmental policies, or cohesion policy. However, it is only in the past few years that some EU institutions have started debating the importance of land issues, from land grabbing, to land concentration and access to land.
Land policies and regulations are mostly adopted and implemented on a national level. Our country analyses offer some hindsight into various national land policies in Europe. Over time, we will also share analyses and resources about the role of local authorities in facilitating access to land for agroecological farming.