ClientEarth applauds rebellion against European Council’s shocking lack of access to justice ambition

ClientEarth lawyers are backing the rebellion of several member states that are calling for greater EU ambition on access to justice in environmental matters.

France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain, with the support of Latvia, have issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment over a watered down agreement recently reached between EU member states.

One year after the EU was found to be in breach of the access to justice provisions of the Aarhus Convention – the UN’s flagship treaty on environmental democracy – the European Council requested the Commission to produce a study and a revision “if appropriate” of the Aarhus regulation, which sets out how the UN treaty is implemented in EU law.

ClientEarth’s environmental lawyers have echoed the concerns of the rebels, which criticise the fact that the Aarhus regulation revision is no longer the clear objective of the decision and the late deadline set for the European Commission to submit its proposal (30 September 2020)

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ClientEarth lawyer Anais Berthier said: “The European Union needs to bring its laws in line with this international treaty. Only then will EU institutions be truly accountable in letting members of the public have access to justice through its courts. We fear the content of this request has been watered down to delay action.

“The only way to bring the EU into compliance with the Convention it signed exactly 20 years ago is to amend the access to justice provisions of the Aarhus regulation.

“It would not only help uphold environmental democracy and ensure better enforcement of EU environmental law, but also put an end to the unfair double standard where member states have to comply with the Aarhus Convention while EU institutions exempt themselves.
“We support the initiative from these member states and hope they will keep up the pressure on the Commission.”

Last year, following a ClientEarth complaint lodged in 2008, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found the European Union to be breaching the Aarhus Convention due to the very limited possibilities for public access to justice at EU institutional level. Subsequent committee recommendations included provisions for the Aarhus regulation to be amended.

The EU, represented by the Council, refused to endorse these findings at the Aarhus Convention ‘meeting of the parties’ last September, severely damaging its credibility and undermining the democratic rights and values enshrined in the Convention.

Following international outrage caused by that decision, and pressure from other EU institutions like the European Parliament, the Council finally decided to address a request to the Commission, using for the first time in environmental matters, article 241 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

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