Since 2008, the European Organization of Land Owners (ELO) has held annual forums in different European countries in order to combine agricultural land development and management strategies with agricultural policies. This year, the regional forum took place in Sofia and it was attended by the Bulgarian Association of Agricultural Landowners, the National Association of Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, the National Association of Grain Producers, the Association of Agricultural Producers in Bulgaria and many others.

For the Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of the Landowners Stayko Staykov represented the goals that the sector has set in relation to the future European agricultural policy after 2020.

Mr. Staykov, what are your expectations from this forum and how will the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) help for the proper management of the agricultural land?

The Forum "Future for Agriculture" is organized for the first time in Bulgaria. The organizer is the sole and largest European organization of landowners ELO, whose members are two non-governmental organizations in Bulgaria - the Association of Agricultural Landowners and the National Association "Bulgarian Black Sea Coast".

The specific thing about ELO is that it works both for the land ownership regulation and its proper use, so that the interests of both parties - owners and processors - are protected. If agricultural land is not well managed, we cannot get a high added value and protect this valuable asset.

The fact that together with our colleagues from the Association of the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast we are members of this organization means a lot to us because we can set our clocks with Europe and quickly solve the actual problems related to the agricultural land.

It is not accidental that our forum coincides with the date when the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan presented his report on the future Common Agricultural Policy. This report is essential because when we have information about the guidelines that the sector is about to reform, then we will be able to build our new policies at national level.

In this regard, the new Land Pandect is an important document that we still need to work on and on which we have to plan our investments in the future. It is important to attract foreign investors in this regard, but at the same time it is important to work hard for the preservation of Bulgarian land.

The first version of the new Land Law was severely criticized by farmers. How will this change in the next project?

We made an offer to the administration to form working groups with broad participation of the branch organizations. It is not accidentally that we invited the representatives of the biggest branch organizations to this forum. Our future goal is to solve the problems in agriculture together, as they do in other European countries.

It is clear to everyone that this one and the next programming period will be closely linked to environmental protection measures and sustainable agriculture, and this should guide us in the legal regulation of the land market.

When will these working groups for the new Land Law be established?

I suppose we could work actively on this document only from the middle of 2018, when our Presidency of the Council of the European Union is over. Then we will know what we have to do, because it is pointless to prepare a new Code, not knowing the conditions under which the European Union will develop beyond 2020. Without these conditions, we cannot plan either when and how to begin the consolidation or the conditions for restoration of the irrigation systems.

You know that land consolidation without irrigation is impossible to take place. From our five pilot projects which have been implemented so far by the Association, it is clear that the effect is good. But this has to be promoted by state policy.

That is why we will wait for the new legislation from Brussels in order to know in which direction to work and together with the state to create a working document that will operate for at least 10 years. It is meaningless to make changes constantly piece by piece.

What are your views on the future Common Agricultural Policy with the expected lower budget?

Because of BREXIT there will be a reduction in the funds for agriculture, but in my opinion, if the money is properly targeting activities that bring a higher added value, even if it is less as a budget, it will have a good effect.

I believe that the Single Area Payment Scheme should remain for Bulgaria, because with the current structure of use, this is the most appropriate way of assisting. On the other hand, it is important to find a right approach and to support the lagging regions. You know that there are still desolate lands, so it is important to restore their functionality. The desolate areas occupy between 5 and 7 million decares, which is not a small amount taking into account the territory of our country.

We can not help thinking about irrigation, which was supposed to start in 2014, and at the same time seeking to develop the agricultural sector. There is no way for this to happen! Therefore, it is important to have subsidies for disadvantaged areas, because without this support we will return 10 years back when the land was 5 million decares less.

Has the demand for Bulgarian land by foreign investors resumed, such as the intentions of China, Turkey and the Arab countries?

This topic is very wide and the discussion on it is yet to go. There is interest in the Bulgarian land, but every big investor who comes to Bulgaria face up with the problem of fragmentation of the agricultural land. Even our association with agricultural land funds cannot respond to this demand, because if land is found, there will be no irrigation. And so no one will take the risk to invest.

Moreover, this topic is periodically speculated. Because when a big investor comes, he does not look for land under 10 thousand decares (a thousand hectares). In order to make his investment he has provided millions of euros and therefore he needs an area that is irrigated. But we know what the state of hydro-melioration is.

On the other hand, it is complicated by annual land consolidation settlements, because when you take a plot, but another investor appears, then the parcels will have to move and that is repelling any serious businessman. At present, the Land Use Law is applicable to land consolidation, but it is harmful if we are about to think of real land consolidation. That's why it can not happen suddenly. In France, for example, it runs for over 50 years. The more we delay this process, the more problems appear in agriculture.

How, in your opinion, have to be restricted the abuses with land use in connection with the preemption of white spots?

The legislator says very well that whoever registers a company and has no history should not be allowed to use land that is not known to whom belongs. And I think that a lot of violations have to be criminalized in order to avoid such problems. The Commercial Law was also included, which states that when a company is transferred, the Parliament refused to give a 5-year statute of limitation, which corresponds to the former owner. Even if they are not 5 years, but 2 or 3, and if the company is efficient, the legislator has to decide it very easily in two or three steps. I believe that with the new Land Law, this can be regulated, as well as other problems such as the problem with the ideal parts and a number of other gaps that allow such frauds to happen.

All this leads to withdrawal of investors because they do not feel well protected. That is why the legislator has to solve this problem.