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WORLD PROPERTY DAY 2005: Brussels

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In 2005, the "World Property Day" was celebrated in the European Parliament building in Brussels, in a special international ceremony, with the kind assistance of MEP PPE Mr. Konstantinos Hatzidakis, at the presence of the German and the British Vicepresidents Dr. Ingo Friedrich and Edward McMillan-Scott, and of many MEPs and EU officials.
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SPEECH OF UIPI PRESIDENT STRATOS PARADIAS

Dear Mr. Vice president and Members of the European Parliament
Dear officials of European Union Institutions,
Dear Presidents and colleagues of the Property Owners Organizations from so many European countries,

I thank you for your presence and your precious time, on such a busy day in the European Parliament. We invited you here today to discuss about a rather unusual subject, a subject which formally, under article 222 of the Treaty of Rome, falls into the competence of the Member States of EU, Property, and Property Rights.
What is property? We refer to it as the right of a person to exclusively control a material good.
In the time of primitive nomad tribes, property rights existed only in movable things. But when rural societies started forming, land became an important economic good, and that was when landmarks appeared and immovable property rights started evolving.
Much later in the Greek and Roman classical times, when cities appeared, property rights were even more important, and property legislation was developed, giving to the contemporary European legal system as its legacy, concepts and terms as dominium, dominium nudum, condominium, usufructus, possesio, usucapio, emphyteusis, and so many others.
During the medieval times feudalism prevailed in Europe, and the land formally belonged to the king or the noble families. This is why the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen of the French Revolution considered it necessary to declare that the four fundamental and imprescriptible rights of man are ?liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression?, and in its article 17 that property right is a sacred right that must be safeguarded.
Later on, Adam Smith considered property as the fruit of productive work, but in Europe more radical views prevailed and the importance of property was violently contested. On 1838, Pierre-Josef Proudhon, the famous French anarchist in his book Qu est ce que la propriete? declared that Property is theft!
When in the middle of the 20th century communism ruled in Eastern Europe, property rights were heavily attacked and even abolished, because marxist philosophy was based on the abolition of private property rights, especially the means of production. They either destroyed the property of unwanted people on ethnical or political ground or launched confiscation. Property means economic strength that is the basis of economic freedom. And there is no political freedom without a reasonable degree of economic freedom. Democracy can be practiced by people that are free to decide what is good for them and the society. People whom the system denies the right to property are not free and not in position to care themselves and for their future. We strongly believe that the lack of respect for private property was one of the main reasons why the communist regimes collapsed financially and of course politically at the end of last century.

In the non communist world, during the same century of wars but also of rapid development and progress in most countries, it was widely accepted that the free enjoyment of one s property is a right absolutely vital for the citizens of all countries, a driving force of private initiative, of productive work and savings, of the increase of the wealth and prosperity all over the world. Concerning private real estate property, today this sector houses millions of European citizens and business activities and contributes tremendously to the economic and social life of Europe, and also to the budgets of all European States. Therefore, private property rights are extremely important, and should be guaranteed for the common benefit.
This was why on the 10th of December of 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was signed in New York, included in its article no 17 the recognition and protection of Property Rights as a genuine Human Right! The European Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Rome two years later, and the protocol No 1, concerning the protection of private property even later on, while on December 2001 the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, signed in Nice, provided the same in its article no 17.

Unfortunately today there are still countries, or situations, where property rights are not fully respected. Even today, in many democratic countries, property rights are violated in many ways by states or local authorities, by either expropriation without full compensation, or indirectly through heavy taxation, unfair rent regulations, environmental restrictions, building prohibitions and so many other methods. Especially in most ex-communist countries of eastern Europe, some of them already members of the European Union, the process of restitution of real estate properties to the former owners is far from being completed, or is facing serious procedural problems, while in some other countries, especially in the Balkans, it has not even started yet! Thousands of former owners have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights for this reason. This is a problem that seeks an urgent political solution. These countries in most cases respect private property acquired recently in dubious circumstances, but not the property rights of those who owned the same property some decades ago and lost it by acts of the totalitarian regime. How can these countries, EU members or not, be trusted when they invite new foreign investors to buy land, property and do business there, when they do not respect the property rights of their own citizens?
On the other hand, in European level, as we all know, real estate property matters are kept in the competence of the Member States. In spite of this, today there are two sectors where property owners are coming under increasing pressure, and to which I would like to draw your attention:
The right to property is being undermined by the attempt to recognize a direct Right to housing for all inhabitants of Europe. Nobody is against the idea that everybody should be adequately and decently sheltered, but when decent housing is a problem, it is the duty of the community to provide it, or at least create conditions in which everybody can be given a minimum standard of living. This is certainly not the duty of houseowners, as one could understand from statements of some activists, just as it is not the duty of farmers and food producing industries to provide a free lunch for everybody. UIPI is proposing the recognition of the Right to Aid for Housing and is demanding measures to assist the private rented sector in providing more housing units, with fewer restrictions and lower taxation of private landlords.
But it would be a mistake to think that property has only enemies. Here in Brussels we have many friends, organized friends who want our good!!! For our good they want to renovate our houses, to inspect and renovate or even change our elevators, our plumbing installations, for our good they want to change many building materials, to install new doors and windows in our houses, pour notre bien they want to insulate our walls, per il nostro bene they want to change or renovate our heating installations, to certificate our houses, so that we can sell or rent them. All these and many more are done of course for our good, pour notre bien, per nostro bene, yes, but all the directives and recommendations which come out of the European Union have one common practical result: they make property owners bear the unreasonable costs or impose bureaucratic procedures which very often are not necessary or useful, and they increase the business activity of the professionals whose organizations are strongly lobbying for the drafting and implementation of all these directives and recommendations! This is an attack directed against private property owners, who have to carry this burden, without any assistance from the European Union or national governments. This is why it is absolutely necessary that the competent European authorities and the Parliament should always take this aspect in consideration. While drafting new directives or recommendations, they should distinguish between new requirements for new buildings, which are generally understood and readily accepted, and on the other hand old buildings which cannot readily be adapted to comply with new regulations without tremendous cost, which inevitably find their way through either to higher rents or lower maintenance.
So I would like to conclude my short presentation, by just saying that private real estate property belonging to millions of people all over Europe, has a unique social and economic importance. The United Nations and European Declarations of Human Rights are legally and politically binding documents, and their implementation concerning property rights, is for the common good and interest. So today we remind everyone that the RIGHT TO PROPERTY IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT, AND AS SUCH IT MUST ALWAYS BE NOT ONLY RECOGNIZED BUT ALSO RESPECTED at both national and international levels!

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"Right to Property and the European Charter of Human Rights"
Speech of Kostas Hatzidakis, MEP PPE


1. The right to property is a renowned, but often highly contentious, right in political thought. Historically, there has been a very wide range of views concerning the nature of property (e.g. common property vs. private property) and the kinds of entitlements that people can have in relation to land and things.

2. However, the right to property is recognized as a fundamental right, both to the extent that it is an aspect of personal identity (e.g. protection for the products of one?s labour) and individual privacy (e.g. enabling persons to exercise a greater degree of privacy through the control of property) as well as to the extent that it is a necessary economic freedom (since the right to own property is an essential prerequisite to the acquisition, exchange and sale of property).


3. The Right to Property has already been enshrined in the "UN-Declaration on Human Rights" of December 10, 1948. In the respective Article 17, it was stated that

"Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property."

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Council of Europe) in the Article 1 of the Protocol 1 to the Convention states:

"Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties".

It has also been recognised on numerous occasions by the case law of the Court of Justice, initially in the Hauer judgment.

4. Therefore, the recognition of this right in the "European Charter of Fundamental Rights" was considered to be a natural development. However, I believe that the protection offered in the Charter as regards the right to property goes beyond all previous provisions, not least because this Charter will be legally binding as part of a European Constitution, once the latter is ratified by all Member States. It will, therefore, constitute primary law within the European Union, and protect in a direct and effective way the rights of all European citizens.

5. Before analysing the content of Article 17 of the Charter that concerns the right to property, I think it is important to understand what this EU Charter of Fundamental Rights really represents. Firstly, it should be appreciated as an important development. It is the first formal EU document to combine and declare all the values and fundamental rights (economic and social as well as civil and political) to which EU citizens should be entitled. Its main aim is to make these rights more visible. The text of the Charter does not establish new rights, but assembles existing rights that were previously scattered over a range of international sources. The charter was drawn by an ad hoc body, known as the "Convention", set up by the heads of State and government in the European Council meeting in Cologne (June 1999). The charter was not incorporated in the Nice Treaty. Therefore, the Charter is for the moment non-binding in a legal was. It has, however, served as a point of reference for EU courts. Its incorporation in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the EU constituted a major progress for the EU.

6. Article 17: Right to Property.

Everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. Noone may be deprived of his or her possessions except in the public interest and in cases and under the conditions provided for by law subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss. The use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest.

This Article is clearly based on Article 1 of the Protocol to the ECHR. The wording has been updated but the meaning and scope of the right are the same as those of the right guaranteed by the ECHR and the limitations may not exceed those provided for there.

The right to property covered under Article 17 can be broken down into three distinct rules:

I. Individuals are entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. The term possessions has been interpreted broadly. It includes all real property (i.e. land and interests in land), chattels (i.e. any thing or movable property) and also acquired rights involving economic interests such as shares, patents, fishing rights, alcohol licenses, planning consent, the ownership of a debt, and even commercial goodwill. However Article 17 applies only to existing property and does not confer a right to buy or otherwise acquire property.

II. The State can deprive individuals of their possessions but only where it is in the public interest, e.g. to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

III. The State can regulate the use of property /possessions of individuals but, again, only where it is necessary in the general interest.

7. Special emphasis should be given on the Deprivation of property. It is deemed to occur only when all the legal rights of an owner are extinguished by operation of law (e.g. a statute abolishing a certain kind of property right) or by the exercise of some power pursuant (e.g. the decision of a public authority) to law. For a claim for deprivation of property to be sustained, the owner must first show that he had title to it. Deprivation may also exist where the measure complained of affects the substance of the property to such a degree that there has been a de facto deprivation, e.g. even though the applicant still retains ownership in a nominal sense.

8. Three conditions must be satisfied in order for the State to deprive a person of a possession under Article 17:

a. the deprivation must be in the public interest;
b. it must be subject to conditions provided by law;
c. there should be adequate compensation.

9. This is very important with regard to conflicts related to property restitution, a problem particularly critical, especially in the former communist countries. UIPI has given long battles and has issued many declarations on this subject.

10. The development of property rights is a cornerstone of our cultural, political, economic and social system. Securing property rights and ensuring they work smoothly is a necessity which reflects the general interest. The European Union has an important role to play in this field.-



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