14 April 2021

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The Legal Community urges the EU to stop violating international rules on access to justice in environmental matters.

by The Good Lobby

The Good Lobby has mobilized hundreds of lawyers, law professors, and other representatives of the legal community—including Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, the voice of more than 1 million lawyers in Europe—to jointly call on the European Union to stop violating international rules on access to justice in environmental matters.

 

In a letter sent on April 13th, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission  were urged to amend EU access to justice law and comply with international law.

For over a decade the EU has been breaching the Aarhus Convention by not providing sufficient means to the members of the public to challenge environmental wrongdoings before EU courts.

 

What is the Aarhus convention?

 

The Aarhus Convention is a multilateral agreement which allows citizens to access environmental information for a more reliable and transparent environmental governance. It aims at introducing a reactive and trustworthy relationship between civil society and governments, empowering public participation in the decision making process, and guaranteeing access to justice regarding environmental matters. Adopted by governments in 1998, The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention establishes a number of rights of the public (individuals and their associations) with regard to the environment. This convention is considered to be a good tool to encourage public participation and transparency.

 

The Aarhus convention, a promising tool yet not correctly put into practice by the EU

 

The Convention entered into force on October 30th, 2001, but reports showed EU non-compliance toward Aarhus regulation. In fact, as found by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC), the EU has breached Article 9(3) by not allowing NGOs and members of the public to hold EU institutions accountable for unlawful decisions that impact public health and the environment, like authorising fossil fuel subsidies, green-lighting harmful pesticides or allowing overfishing. The ACCC, found in an advice dating back to 2017 that the EU must increase possibilities for members of the public to protect the environment in EU courts, in order to comply with the treaty.

 

Revision of the Aarhus regulation is on the table but a stronger proposal is required

 

Following the recent legislative proposal to amend the EU rules on the application of the Aarhus Convention, in February 2021 the ACCC clarified that the proposal is still not strong enough to ensure compliance with international law.

The ACCC advised that the following amendments are needed for the EU to comply with the Aarhus Convention:

  • Make sure all binding administrative decisions taken by the EU institutions are subject to review, including those that require “implementing measures” at national level.
  • Make State aid decisions that break EU environmental law subject to review.
  • Allow individuals, as well as NGOs, to challenge unlawful EU decisions.

 

For these reasons, The Good Lobby wroteon behalf of the legal communityan open letter to the European institutions , urging the EU to follow the ACCC’s advice and ensure the revision doesn’t leave the EU in only partial compliance with the Aarhus Convention.

 

What’s next for the Aarhus Convention? 

The next and final meeting between the rapporteur and the political groups’ shadow rapporteurs is scheduled Friday 16th of April. The report is expected to be voted upon at the ENVI committee meeting on April 22 and go through a plenary vote in May.

 

 

 

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