Members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) attended a conference with the title Access to land for farmers in the EU, organised by the European Green party and taking place on 7 December in Brussels at the EESC headquarters and at the European Parliament.
Brendan Burns, President of the EESC NAT section, referred to his country Scotland, where 50% of the land is in the hands of only 500 people mainly living outside Scotland, which results in dying villages, deserted landscapes and a weakening economy.
Since 1999, Scotland has been trying to change this situation, facing many obstacles for instance when communities want to buy land from owners living far away from Scotland. "The situation in Scotland which has prevented the country in huge parts from sustainable rural development and societies, should be a warning example for Europe, ", said Mr. Burns when opening the conference.
Concentrated land distribution in Europe alarming
Sylvia Kay, from the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), has been monitoring the situation of farming and land access in Europe for many years and has produced some alarming figures: in Europe, 3% of the farms control 52% of the land or 11% of the big farms (over 100 ha) are controlling 75% of the European farming land. In Bulgaria the situation is even worse, with 83.5 % of the farmland in the hands of only 2% of the farmers.
All over Europe the tendency towards big farms is increasing: in Finland large farms have increased more than fivefold a (5.5) and the farmland they control six-fold. In the Netherlands large farms have tripled.
At the same time Europe is facing a massive decline of small scale farms (up to 10 ha): of the 12 million in operation in 1995 until 2013 only 8 million have survived, which equals a 33% reduction. In Estonia the situation is even worse: in only 10 years – between 2003 and 2013 - 62% of small farms vanished.
Rural areas – a key priority of the EESC's work
The high concentration of ownership, both on the supplier and customer side, and the trend towards fewer but larger farms are causing problems in the upstream and downstream economy, cutting many jobs and hollowing out rural areas.
The EESC has been working for a long time on solutions to improve the situation of rural areas, and has called for both support for small farmers and a more just and sustainable European CAP. The EESC is also particularly concerned about some of the consequences of the free movement of capital within the EU as enshrined in the Treaties and has called on the European Parliament and the Council to discuss whether the principle of free movement of capital should be guaranteed in respect of the alienation and acquisition of agricultural land.