Commission concerned over language requirements for land buyers

European Commission institutions have ''concerns'' about the recent restrictions put in place toughening the state language requirements for foreigners who buy farmland in Latvia, LETA was informed by the Commission's representation in Latvia on November 2. 

The representation said that the EC is concerned about several of the new language requirements in place for purchasing agricultural land, calling them discriminatory, as they put persons from Latvia who speak the local language in a more favorable position than foreigners who do not.

The European Commission has expressed readiness to assist Latvian institutions in finding a solution to this matter, while at the same time eliminating the problems associated with the new laws, so that they are in accordance with EU regulations.

Speaking on Latvian Radio, the Commission's representative in Latvia, Inna Steinbuka said:

The European Commission has raised concerns about some of the requirements - mainly involving language and residence - for the requirements introduced by the latest amendments to the Law on Agricultural Land.

However she said she was also pleased that some concerns that might have placed restrictions on capital flows, which would have been contrary to EU rules, had been modified.

But the "two main points" remained potentially problematic as they suggested locals were getting preferential treatment in a commercial matter over people from other EU member states. 

In addition "negative signals" about the laws had been received from various foreign embassies in Latvia, Steinbuka added. The embassies in turn had expressed concerns of foreign companies who were now eyeing investments in Latvia with a degree of wariness.

As previously reported by LSM, this May a bill toughening the state language requirements for foreigners who buy farmland in Latvia came into force.

Under the new law, foreign buyers of agricultural land in Latvia will be required to have better knowledge of the Latvian language and, if requested by the local government, will have to be able to present their plans for a land plot they have acquired in Latvian.

"Not all [foreign buyers] have excellent Latvian, not all are resident here and not all are qualified farmers - so that's why we are ringing this alarm bell," said Steinbuka.

"The European Commission is not saying there cannot be restrictions - but those restrictions have to be in line with European norms," she added.

In the original version of the bill, foreigners buying farmland in Latvia were required to have basic command of Latvian (A level), while the new law states that foreigners buying farmland in Latvia will have to have better command of the language corresponding to level B (medium level), Grade 2.

Grade 2 of the medium level (B2) means that the person has to be able to communicate on everyday subjects and professional issues, to clearly phrase and justify his or her opinion, to read and understand texts of different content, to be able to write the documents necessary for work (for example, statements, summaries, minutes, reports, deeds), as well as expanded texts regarding everyday life and professional topics, comprehend and understand naturally paced spoken texts on different topics.

But the law clashes notably with another law passed early this year which allows foreign investors to file some of their accountancy and tax affairs in English and which has been trumpeted as an encouragement to foreign investment. 

The new law also deals with other matters, such as registration of land plots with the Land Register, if they have not been registered already.

This law took effect on July 1 this year.

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