Land concentration, land grabbing and peopleʼs struggles in Europe

This report has just been published (June 2013) by the Transnational Institute for European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands off the Land Network.  It was presented to the European Parliament on June 25.

The full report (236pp) can be downloaded here

TNI introduces the report and its recommendations as follows:

Land issues are rarely considered to be a problem for Europeans, or cause for peopleʼs struggles in Europe today, as it is elsewhere in the world – at least in the emerging literature on contemporary global land enclosures. But is this really the case? A closer look reveals quite the opposite.

Many deeply social, cultural, political and economic issues and concerns around land that are associated with countries and peoples in the global South exist all across the globe — including in a region where one might least expect it: Europe. In Europe today, concentration of land under ever larger holdings controlled by fewer hands, resulting (in part) from land grabbing and resulting in shrinking access to land for small-scale food producers, is accelerating. To what extent, how and why this is happening warrants far more critical attention than has been the case to date.

This collection aims to address this gap and spark meaningful and constructive discussion. It brings together case studies detailing the nature and extent of these problems in 13 countries. The case studies are capped by a final chapter that reflects on the situations they present from a human rights perspective, using the lens of the CFS Tenure Guidelines on Land, Fisheries and Forests, a new governance instrument that was supported by European governments and addresses tenure issues in relation to national food security and the progressive realisation of the right to food.

The study itself is just an initial attempt in what we hope will become a continuing conversation around land issues in Europe in particular and in the global North more generally. The current study is the product of an intensive and focused collective process, one involving a team of grassroots researchers, academics, and development practitioners, many of whom were already steeped in practical experience and knowledge regarding the particular situations they researched and wrote about here. The seeds of inquiry were planted in June 2012 and began germinating that Autumn; the early growth was examined, pruned and nurtured in a workshop that was held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in December 2012; in January 2013 the first fruits were ready for taste-testing via a peer review process and layers of editorial work.

The whole project was spearheaded by the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), in close collaboration with the Hands Off the Land (HOtL) alliance and other organisations. The European Coordination Via Campesina is an organisation of 27 farmersʼ and agricultural workersʼ unions as well as rural movements working to achieve food sovereignty in Europe. The HOtL alliance brings together a number of organisations engaged in raising public awareness within Europe on pressing global land issues, including land grabbing, involving European policies and companies.

Until now the global phenomenon that is widely referred to as ʻland grabbingʼ has been generally assumed to be happening only in the Global South, and with many reports claiming that it is concentrated in Africa and that the main land grabbers are Chinese, Indian and South Korean companies as well as the Gulf States. Transnational social movement and NGO campaigns have likewise tended to accept unquestioningly this general assumption that land grabbing is a phenomenon focused on countries in the South, especially African countries. By bringing Europeʼs land issues into focus, the present study stands to change the way we think of contemporary land grabbing in at least three fundamental ways.

First, land grabbing is not the only important and pressing land issue in the world today; the ongoing trend of ʻgenericʼ land concentration is just as significant and problematic. Second, land concentration and land grabbing do not only occur in developing countries in the South, but are trends that are currently underway in Europe as well. Third, the study shows that peopleʼs struggles against land concentration and land grabbing are also unfolding in Europe, suggesting that a truly transnational perspective on political struggle against contemporary enclosures is certainly warranted, if not urgently needed. In this introduction we offer a discussion of the studyʼs main highlights, which are briefly summarised below.

1. Europe is currently experiencing tremendous and rapid land concentration.

This process is adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers and agricultural workers. In many European countries, the degree of land-based inequality is similar to some countries with notoriously inequitable distribution of land ownership and land-based wealth such as Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines. In Europe today, tens of thousands of small farmers are being thrown out of farming every year, while large farms and agribusiness are expanding their scope widely and rapidly. The same logic of global capital accumulation imperatives that are the driving force in land grabbing globally, are underpinning land concentration processes in Europe: this is, the revaluation of land in light of the convergence of multiple crises around food, energy, climate and finance.

Yet two European processes have fused together with the converging crises, resulting in the explosive concentrating currents seen today. First, there is a privatisation drive in land property systems in the previously socialist countries, which is rapidly altering landscapes and livelihoods there. Second, there is a possible shift in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy scheme of the European Union (EU) that is directly tied to production, i.e. subsidy per hectare of farmland, and which may become an important incentive for well-to-do farmers, agribusiness and other speculators to accumulate land – just as the existing CAP subsidy system has been. Dramatic processes of land concentration within the EU have coincided with the concentration of the benefits of CAP subsidy in the hands of fewer and bigger land holdings. Simply put, there has been at least the coexistence of CAP subsidy system and tens of thousands of farmers being out of farming every year.

Importantly, while land concentration has always been part of the European scene (as it has elsewhere), we see a few features emerging in recent years that give it a distinct, contemporary character. These features pertain to: (i) the relatively newer/different context of global/European capital accumulation imperatives, combined with land concentration processes that are of a (ii) relatively newer character, (ii) alarming extent, (iii) worrying pace, and (iv) appalling manner. Land concentration turns out to be a very critical issue in Europe today, and ought to be understood as one of the most strategic development issues facing the European region and its peoples — directly involving at least 25 million people in the EU alone.

2. On par with the scale and character witnessed in Africa, Asia and Latin America – and so, to a greater extent than previously believed — land grabbing is underway in Europe as well.

Within the EU, land grabbing is especially significant in many of the relatively newer Member States, including at least three of the countries included in this study: Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, although arguably, it is taking place in Germany, Italy and Spain as well. As will be seen, as in other parts of the world, the scale of the land acquired is usually quite large: often involving thousands of hectares of land per deal.

As elsewhere, the ʻgrabbersʼ are not just confined to foreign actors, but domestic investors too, and therefore include not only those grabbers frequently highlighted in the mainstream media (e.g, Chinese capital and the Gulf States, for example), but also European capital as well. Indeed, European capital emerges as an important factor in all the countries studied here. Meanwhile, the nature of the land transactions brought to light here are often just as shady in character as those witnessed in Cambodia or Ethiopia, for instance.

Finally, it bears stressing that this phenomenon of land grabbing in Europe is unfolding both inside and outside the EU, and the present study also brings into focus the cases of Serbia and Ukraine, in addition to numerous cases inside the EU. Arguably, and as demonstrated in several case studies in this collection, CAP subsidy is one of the drivers of land grabbing within the EU – especially in Eastern Europe, and has helped to unleash the rise of a new class of ʻland grab entrepreneursʼ: land brokers, speculators and scammers whose activities are facilitating the dramatic, and in our view highly problematic, changes around land property relations and land use that are currently unfolding.

Overall, Europe is linked to the global land-grabbing phenomenon in at least three ways: (a) as context for land grabbing elsewhere, (b) as the origin of land grabbers, and (c) as a site for land grabbing. This 3-in-1 role of the region is quite similar to two other regions in the world, namely, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

3. Green grabbing – or land grabbing in the name of the environment – is an emerging phenomenon in Europe, as it is elsewhere in the world.

Europe is linked to green grabbing in at least two ways. On the one hand, EU policies such as its biofuels policy, embodied in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), as well as various global policies that it supports such as REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), are crucial contexts for massive land grabbing happening in various other parts of the world. On the other hand, Europe is itself becoming an important site of green grabbing via increasing corporate investments in renewable energy that require both large-scale acquisitions of land, and significant changes in how land is used. Again, public subsidies for investments in renewable energy that are linked to land grabbing are increasingly an issue.

4. ʻArtificialisationʼ of land is a key underlying process leading to land concentration, land grabbing and green grabbing.

Changing lifestyles towards more urban ways, and capital accumulation imperatives (the need to continuously reinvent itself to generate profit) are leading to encroachment into agricultural land, eroding the latter through scattered but steady and widespread land use changes. In Europe, a significant amount of prime agricultural land (e.g., near road infrastructure or with irrigation, for example) is lost to urban sprawl, real estate speculation, tourism enclaves, and an array of other non-agricultural commercial undertakings – a process that many French farmer-activists call ʻartificialisation of landʼ. Although typically encroaching into the most fertile and productive agricultural lands in piece-meal fashion that in isolation may not seem like much, these scattered cases of usually smaller land deals ultimately add up to a substantial capture and loss of farmland across Europe.

5. Additionally, these processes of land concentration and land grabbing in the European setting are further reinforced by existing market dynamics and institutional rules, which effectively deny entry into agriculture to prospective farmers.

The process of putting small farmers out of farming and blocking the entry of prospective small farmers into the agricultural sector are two interlinked phenomena that are shaped by the push towards fewer and larger farm holdings. As will be seen in the country studies, this is an especially troubling – but even less visible — dimension of the land question in Europe today. It has a clear generational dimension too, one that raises additional fundamental questions about the very future of farming in Europe – not only what form it will take and what purposes it will serve, but who will do it.

6. Against these trends and in favour of alternatives, cross-class peopleʼs struggles are growing.

Vibrant peopleʼs struggles against land concentration, ʻartificialisation of landʼ, and land grabbing are definitely taking root and growing across Europe. These struggles are of two types. First, we are seeing the rise of defensive peopleʼs counter-enclosure campaigns where people are actively resisting dispossession or ʻartificialisation of landʼ. Second, we are seeing more pro-active peopleʼs enclosure campaigns where people are firmly asserting their own right to control land resources, including their right to cultivate and to choose how and for what purposes to farm.

One key feature of the protest front that is emerging across Europe is its multi-class character and capacity to bring together diverse categories of people: farmers, workers, consumers, urban gardeners, activists, young and old, men and women. Another is its territorial character: for various reasons the nascent protest front is reimagining and reshaping relations and relationships not just within the rural sphere, but also between rural and urban, and toward more territorial fields of action that criss-cross urban and rural boundaries in transformative ways.


In light of the findings of this report, the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), supported by various organizations directly and indirectly involved in this report, put forward a set of demands addressed to national and EU governmental bodies to address the triangular issues of land concentration, land grabbing and barriers to entry to farming. Our main demands are:

Land should regain importance as a public good. We must reduce the commodification of land and promote public management of territories. Priority should be given to the use of land for smallholder and peasant agriculture and food production against the simple private property commercial interests. Access to land should be given to those who work it or to those who want to work it in a socially and ecologically acceptable way. This opens the possibility for young people to enter the land, and simultaneously distances from those who currently control land but do not themselves work it. It also links with the statement that follows here below, i.e. that redistributive land policies are needed.

1) Stop and reverse the trend of extreme land concentration and commodification!

Carry out redistributive land policies (land reform, land restitution, affordable land rentals, and so on) in areas of concentrated ownership; Recognise historical use rights and communal land systems; Implement policies to support transformation of industrial farms into small family/ peasant farms/ food sovereignty projects, including urban agriculture.

2) Stop land grabbing!

Ban all investors and speculators (companies, banks/governments) that are operating, and/or grabbing land, in Europe and elsewhere in the world; Create a public databank/tracking system of the transactions of governments and companies engaged in land grabbing.

3) Assure access to land for farming, especially for young people, as the basis to achieve food sovereignty; and abolish the patriarchal system of land possession or heritage and promote policies of positive discrimination to assure access to land for farming for women.

Strengthen or create the participation of local communities in decision-making on land use; Develop legal frameworks for cooperative-type farms and co-ownership arrangements that would improve the situation of women in land ownership and make it easier for young people to set up a farm; Change the installation and renting criteria and adopt policies to support sustainable small farm/ peasantsʼ projects (e.g. leave minimal surface condition for subsidies); Push for the adoption and democratic application of the CFS Tenure Guidelines on responsible governance of land in Europe within a food sovereignty framework; Support concrete actions of recovering land (e.g. occupation of industrial zones); Create public management frameworks or reform existing ones (e.g. Safer, France) to facilitate the access of youth, landless people, also for other resources such as water; Prioritise the use of land for food versus agrofuel production and other commercial energy uses, extractive industries and useless megaprojects – in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Content of report

1. Introduction

Land concentration, land grabbing and peopleʼs struggles in Europe: Introduction to the collection of studies Saturnino Borras Jr., Jennifer Franco and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

2. France

Land Grabbing, ʻArtificialisationʼ and Concentration in France: Causes, Consequences and Challenges Morgan Ody

3. Andalusia

Land: Access and struggles in Andalusia, Spain

Marco Aparicio, Manuel Flores, Arturo Landeros, Sara Mingorría, Delphine Ortega and Enrique Tudela

4. Germany

Land concentration, land grabbing and options for change in Germany

Roman Herre

5. Italy

Land concentration and green grabs in Italy: The case of Furtovoltaico in Sardinia Antonio Onorati and Chiara Pierfederici

6. France

Land Grabbing in France: The case of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport

Anton Pieper

7. Austria

The politics of land and food in cities in the North: Reclaiming urban agriculture and the struggle Solidarisch Landwirtschaften! (SoliLa!) in Austria Kim Möhrs, Franziskus Forster, Sarah Kumnig and Lukas Rauth members of the SoliLa! collective

8. Hungary

The Return of the White Horse: Land Grabbing in Hungary

Robert Fidrich

9. Romania

Scramble for land in Romania: Iron fist in a velvet glove

Judith Bouniol

10. Bulgaria

Land concentration, land grabbing and land conflicts in Europe: The case of Boynitsa in Bulgaria Georgi Medarov

11. Serbia

Land Grabbing and Land Concentration in Europe: The case of Serbia

Milenko Srećković

12. Ukraine

Land Grabs in the Black Earth: Ukrainian Oligarchs and International Investors

Christina Plank

13. Poland

Land Issues and land struggles in Poland

Jadwiga Lopata

14. Ireland

Land struggles in Ireland: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland”

Fergal Anderson

15. CFS Tenure Guidelines

The myth of good land and natural resource governance in Europe: What the case studies reveal and how the CFS Tenure Guidelines on land, fisheries and forests provide guidance to revise European land policies Claire Guffens, Florence Kroff and Philip Seufert

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