Saeima passes law restricting farmland sales to those with Latvian language

Take note – story published 7 years and 1 month ago

Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, on May 18 passed a law requiring foreign buyers of Latvian farmland to be able to speak Latvian.

The law passed thanks to support from government members of parliament plus some smaller parties.

The most contentious amendment to the law will require purchasers of farmland to speak Latvian certified as B2 level by official tests and to be able to answer questions by local committees in the district in which their farmland is located -- with the possibility that a sale will be refused unless they are satisfied.

The provision on state language skills supported by a small majority - 45 MPs voted in favor and 40 against. The amendment passed as the Greens and Farmers Alliance of Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, which has the backing of a considerable agricultural lobby, was supported by the right-of-center National Alliance.

The amendments had been returned to Saeima after President Raimonds Vejonis returned them, saying he was dissatisfied with the quality of the legislation. In response, Saeima hiked the language requirement from level A1 (basic) to B2, which under EU definitions is classed as fluency, though it might better be described as intermediate-to-good level command of the language.

The move will complicate the purchase of farmland for foreign buyers and the need to satisfy local officials may also raise fears about potential opportunities for corruption. However, supporters of the amendments argue that unless restrictions are put in place, Latvian farmers may be priced out of their own market and point to restrictions in force in France and Belgium to support their case.  

The topic of foreigners buying up swaths of cheap land in Latvia entered the limelight most recently with LTV De facto's stories revealing that 340,344.5 hectares, or 8% of the country's forested and agricultural land is owned by foreigners.

A total 50% of the foreign owners come from Sweden.

Latvia's law also contains provisions requiring potential farmland buyers to have appropriate professional and educational qualifications and be free of any tax debts.

President Vejonis could in theory refuse to promulgate the law if he is still dissatisfied, but that would put him on a collision course with Saeima that he might judge to be an unnecessary distraction. 

The changes come into effect on July 1 this year.

You can work on your Latvian language skills by reading the Saeima's account of the amendments below.



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