SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's top court overturned a ban on selling arable land to investors from the European Union, averting a legal clash with Brussels and resolving a dilemma for the country's coalition government.
The ban was originally passed in 2007 and was to last for seven years. Last November, parliament voted to extend the ban to 2020, but the Socialist-led coalition asked the court to quash the extension. The court ruled on that motion on Tuesday, effectively ending the ban.
"The court declared the decision unconstitutional," the chief secretary of Bulgaria's Constitutional Court, Enita Enikova, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Extending the ban was backed by the nationalist Attack party, which is generally suspicious of foreign involvement with Bulgaria. Some Socialist deputies voted with Attack in November, because they feared low prices could trigger a surge in foreign land purchases.
The Socialist-led cabinet needs Attack's support to pass legislation. But the ban on EU investors brought warnings that Brussels might review Bulgaria's EU accession treaty. The top court's decision thus solves two problems for the Socialists -- Attack cannot blame them for not passing the extension, and the EU cannot blame them for passing it.
"We are a member of the European Union, and in 2007 we adopted a seven-year moratorium prohibiting the acquisition of land by EU citizens," Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said earlier this month. "This moratorium expired and I see no threat to the Bulgarian land."
Foreigners from outside the EU have been allowed to acquire land in the Black Sea state through Bulgarian-registered companies since the country joined the EU in 2007.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Larry King)