Austrian farm minister took “another unfriendly step,” says Fazekas

Fazekas SándorHungarian Farm Minister Sandor Fazekas said on Monday that his counterpart Andra Rupprechter had taken “another unfriendly step” when he discussed Hungary’s land law in Brussels. Mr Rupprechter said earlier on Monday that the European Commission had made an official promise to Austria to assess Hungary’s disputed new land law. Rupprechter said he had received an official letter about this from Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in what he called an “important interim step.” The case falls in the scope of European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier and Mr Rupprechter has already consulted him about it. “This is a Hungarian issue and it is our job to settle it,” Mr Fazekas said, adding that he still did not think it was necessary to consult with Austria about the case since Mr Rupprechter had been “continually insulting Hungarians and continually reporting on us” instead of accepting that it is up to Hungary and not Austria to settle the land issue. For decades, Hungarian law has been violated and circumvented, a practice which will have to be stopped, Mr Fazekas said. Mr Rupprechter is defending the tricksters instead of accepting that Austrian law must be respected in Austria and Hungarian law in Hungary, he added. “He is defending the pocket contracts that were used to circumvent Hungarian legal regulations and the moratorium on foreigners’ land purchase, which everyone knew about, the investors and the speculators alike,” he said. “We assume responsibility for the Hungarian position and will be able to defend it in front of the Commission and at other forums if necessary,” he added. Hungarian Parliament in early February approved a modified law on so-called pocket contracts, seeking to make action taken by the authorities against the invalid ownership and misuse of farmland in Hungary more effective. Austrian farmers will not be able to legally claim ownership of lands in Hungary, neither under the old laws, nor the new ones, Mr Fazekas said at the time. These “pocket contracts” will not be legalised in future, either, he added. Mr Rupprechter earlier said the Hungarian legislation was unacceptable and contravened European laws. In December last year he wrote to Mr Fazekas with objections to the law, saying it would strip Austrian farmers of their right to benefit from Hungarian farmland.