MEPs have voted to adopt a non-legislative resolution which encourages EU States to re-shape their land policies to provide better access to land for small, young, new and women farmers.

Adopted by the Agriculture Committee, the resolution also recommends that EU states should tackle the dominant position of big players and do away with land speculations.

Those who farm land should have a pre-emptive right to buy it, MEPs say.

They also want an EU-wide monitoring and information exchange on land prices and rents; a call for a cap on payments for big farms was also made.

The report shows that the European Parliament's Agricultural Committee is aware that there is a big problem in the agricultural land markets throughout the EU, MEP Maria Noichl said.

"Therefore, we call on the European Commission to publish a set of criteria which clearly lines out what the common market rules allow, when it comes to regulating the land market policies in the EU Member States.

We also need to give priority to young farmers and new entrants into farming regarding the purchase of land, whilst effectively controlling land transactions for purely speculative purposes.

"Land is a scarce, non-renewable resource as well as the basis of the human right to healthy and sufficient food supply and of many eco-system services.

"Consequently, we need to prevent a buy-out of agricultural land,” she added.

The committee approved the draft non-legislative resolution by 34 votes in favour to two against, with six abstentions.

Small, young, new and women farmers given priority

The non-legislative resolution outlines that Member States should redesign their land policies to give small and medium-sized local producers, new entrants and young and women farmers priority in purchasing and renting farmland.

These redesigned land policies should include a pre-emptive right to buy land when offered for sale, the draft resolution says.

EU structural policy should be used more to overcome structural barriers such as high land prices, according to MEPs.

An example of this would be providing special assistance to small and medium-sized producers, as well as young and women farmers, they add.

MEPs are calling on the Commission to provide new instruments to facilitate farmers’ access to sustainable credit.

Calls were also made to national governments to close any legislative loopholes making contract abuse possible, and to ensure that national judiciaries are well equipped to protect all parties’ rights in case of irregularities with lease contracts.

Tackling Land Speculation

As part of the resolution, farmland should receive a special protection that would allow EU states to regulate its sale, use and lease, without prejudice to the four fundamental EU freedoms.

It is hoped that this will ensure a secure supply of food within the EU.

The Commission should clarify, to this end, which market regulation measures are permitted, the resolution adds.

MEPs believe the EU’s executive should publish a clear set of criteria on farmland transactions on capital markets.

They also suggest that Member States use their tax laws to regulate land markets and prevent speculative land transactions.

Further options that MEPs encourage Member States to use include:

  • State licensing of land sales and leases.
  • Rights of pre-emption.
  • Obligations for tenants to engage in farming.
  • Restrictions on the right of purchase by legal persons.
  • Ceilings on the number of hectares that may be bought.
  • Preference for farmers.
  • Land banking.
  • Indexation of prices on the basis of farm incomes.

Dominant position of big players

Land market policies should be designed in a way to help prevent the establishment of dominant positions on land markets, MEPs say.

They encourage Member States to make greater use of existing tools to cap and redistribute Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds, they add.

Better monitoring and information exchange

MEPs also want the Commission to establish an observatory to collect information and data on farmland markets.

This information would include purchase prices and rents, market behaviour of owners and tenants as well as the loss of farmland.

MEPs believe the Commission should also set up a high-level task force and conduct a study on farmland concentration and its risks.

Member States, for their part, should create harmonised farmland inventories to record ownership and rental rights, that would allow the Commission to process and correctly interpret these data records, they add.

It is expected that the draft resolution adopted by the Agricultural Committee will now be scrutinised by the European Parliament in Brussels on April 26 and April 27, 2017.