The European Commission on October 12 issued guidance to assist European Union member states protect farmland.

For instance, member states can restrict sales of farmland to preserve agricultural communities and promote sustainable agriculture, but this must comply with EU law, in particular rules on free movement of capital.

According to the Commission’s guidelines, restrictions may be acceptable under certain conditions. These may include prior authorisations from national authorities for the acquisition of land, or limits on the size of the land to be acquired. The list also includes pre-emption rights allowing certain categories of buyers to purchase farmland before it is sold to others. Buyers benefitting from these rights may include tenant farmers, neighbours, co-owners and the state.

EU member states may also prohibit companies from buying land or require qualifications in farming as pre-conditions for buying land.

According to a European Commission press release, the October 12 guidelines respond to a call in March by the European Parliament, which asked the Commission to set a clear and comprehensive set of criteria for land market regulations to ensure a level playing field in compliance with EU law.