Home News Huge bill after land-seizure ruling

Huge bill after land-seizure ruling

Published on 23/01/2004

23 January 2004

STRASBOURG – Germany faces potentially massive costs after the European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ruled against controversial seizures of property from east Germans following the 1990 unification.

The Strasbourg court, which belongs to the Council of Europe, said the German state’s taking land given to people in former East Germany after 1945 was a violation of property rights in the European Human Rights Convention.

Farm and forest property, partly awarded to ethnic Germans who fled eastern Europe after World War II, was claimed by the government of then chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1992. No compensation was paid.

The court’s ruling looks likely to overturn what critics termed a state land grab.

In eastern Saxony-Anhalt state alone an official warned the payout demanded by the ruling to 18,200 former owners and heirs would be at least EUR 120 million for 26,000 hectares held by the state.

“This can’t be managed by the state alone – the federal government will have to help us,” said Saxony-Anahlt Environment Minister Petra Wernicke who admitted much of the land could not be given back because the cash-strapped state had already sold it.

Total costs for the five eastern German states could easily be more than five times the 120 million euro bill cited by Wernicke given that forest property in Thuringia, Saxony and Mecklenburg-West Pommerania states is often more valuable than that in Saxony-Anhalt.

A total of 70,000 people are said to be eligible for compensation.

In Berlin, the federal justice ministry said it was checking to see if could appeal the ruling and had been given three months to do so by the Strasbourg court.

As expensive as Thursday’s ruling could prove, worse could still be coming for the German government.

A further court ruling is due on the seizure of far larger properties in eastern Germany by communist authorities between 1945 and 1949.

These include aristocratic estates, major industries and banks the total value of which could run up to EUR 50 billion according to some estimates.

The Kohl government refused to return these properties to former owners after unification and the state has since privatized most of them and kept the proceeds.

Kohl’s justification for this move was that the former Soviet Union had made non-return of these lands a condition for allowing German unification to go ahead.

But this was subsequently denied by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other top Moscow officials.

Subject: German news