When Poland joined the EU on 1 May 2004, it became legal for citizens from surrounding EU countries (plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) to buy real estate in the country. However, permits were still required to allow non-Polish nationals to purchase either agricultural or forest land across the majority of the country, a law extending for twelve years from the date of Poland’s EU accession.
However, with 2 May 2016 looming – the date when foreign buyers will legally be able to buy Polish agricultural land without a permit – Polish farmers are protesting what they claim will be large-scale ‘land grabs’ by foreign companies.
In 2013, the value of agricultural land in Poland ranged from €8,500 (£6,300) to €3,640 (£2,700) per hectare, and rising by around 16 per cent annually. By comparison, agricultural land costs around €20,000 (£14,900) per hectare in the UK, and as high as €49,000 (£36,400) per hectare in the Netherlands. While the countdown to the expiry date is regarded as positive news amongst investors, the farmers claim that without the protection provided by the permit system, Poland’s fertile land will be snapped up at a bargain price by foreigners who will later profit from Poland’s booming land prices.
One Polish farmers’ union press release stated: ‘We demand the introduction of legislation that will protect Polish land from exploitation by foreign capital! Agricultural land can not be sold to commercial companies. It’s part of Polish territory. Once sold it will be lost.’
The farmers’ protests involved several days of tractors blocking the main A2 motorway into Warsaw, with many other protests forcing closed roads across other parts of the country. The farmers are demanding to open negotiations with the government to discuss the May 2016 deadline – a request which the government has yet to take them up on.
‘We are ready for dialogue,’ says Edward Kosmal, chairman of the farmers protest committee for the West-Pomeranian Region, addressing the Polish government. ‘We look forward to meeting with you Prime Minister, and beginning a comprehensive government commitment to solving the problems of Polish agriculture. If you do not enter into a dialogue with the Union, we would be forced to tighten our forms of protest.’
As well as their concerns about foreign purchases of Polish land, there are three other key demands flagged up by the farmers. These are: to legalise direct sales of farm produce (making it easier for small farmers to compete with larger organisations), to extend inheritance laws to include land under lease as a fully legal form of land use, and to ban the cultivation and sale of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Poland.