In a procedure of posterior norm control, the Constitutional Court dealt with certain legal questions related to the sale of State-owned lands that belong to the Natura 2000 network. The special weight of the decision lies in the fact that it has been for the first time since the establishment of the Constitutional Court that it has comprehensively reviewed the legal requirements of preserving the fauna and flora, i.e. the biodiversity of Hungary.

Natura 2000 lands are agricultural areas where – in the interest of protecting the species of plants and animals living there – agricultural activity can only be performed with significant restraints regarding the compliance with special regulations in the field of environmental protection and nature conservation. As a background of the Constitutional Court’s procedure, with the authorisation of the National Assembly, the Government sold in the framework of the “Land for the Farmers!” Program a significant volume of Natura 2000 lands formerly owned by the state. 52 MPs who initiated the procedure filed a petition requesting the annulment of the relevant part of the law on the sale of Natura 2000 lands.  The petitioners hold that the change of ownership of these lands from state to private ownership would decrease the effectiveness of preserving the natural values of the lands concerned.

The Constitutional Court established – by setting a more severe standard of environmental regulation than in its earlier decision – that every single measure is contrary to the Fundamental Law if the content of the measure in question results in the deterioration of the environment or the risk thereof, even if the legal regulation remains unchanged. The Court also pointed out: As it would be impossible to protect the biodiversity of Hungary only in the nature reserves, the Natura 2000 areas that account for as much as 22% of the country’s territory have a crucial role to play in these efforts.

In the Constitutional Court’s view, at present, there are no rules guaranteeing to take into account the aspects of the environment and of nature conservation in the process of selling Natura 2000 areas. The Court also established: the regulations in force do not grant to the Natura 2000 areas acquired by private owners the same level of protection enjoyed by state-owned areas.

Consequently the Constitutional Court called upon the National Assembly to meet its legislative obligation by 30 June 2018 regarding the regulation of both the sale of Natura 2000 areas and their utilisation after the sale.

Judges Dr. István Balsai and Egon Dr. Dienes-Oehm attached dissenting opinions to the decision. The full text of the decision of the Constitutional Court is available in Hungarian on the Constitutional Court’s website (alkotmanybirosag.hu), the case number is: II/03394/2015.