Serbia Passes Bill Cementing Limits of Land Sales to Foreigners

(Bloomberg) -- Lawmakers adopted restrictions against European Union citizens buying arable land in the Balkan country just days before Serbia was to open the market under a 2008 agreement.

In a 131-13 vote, lawmakers passed a bill requiring any EU citizen to live in Serbia for at least 10 years before purchasing land, with plots limited to two hectares. The government said it wants to protect local farmers and prevent foreigners from taking over natural resources. Other foreigners can’t buy any farmland, though foreign companies can through local units.

“Without the restrictions, we would be the only country to open land sales before becoming a member’’ of the EU, Agriculture Minister Nedimovic said when he presented the draft in parliament last week. He said it was in the “national interest’’ to keep agricultural land locally owned, citing measures by other states that are already members or seeking to join.

Serbia signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in 2008, accepting a time line to gradually remove trade barriers. Under the deal, made when Serbs thought they would join the bloc within several years, the land market opens on Sept. 1. President Aleskandar Vucic has said he hopes to prepare the country for EU entry by 2020.

Conditions also include that EU citizens must farm land as a lessee for at least three years before buying it, and a seller must first offer it to the state. Land close to military facilities and in national parks can’t be sold at all.