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EU abandons leadership on access to justice on international stage

The EU’s proposal not to adopt the UN’s findings that it is breaching international law by blocking EU court access in environmental matters has been rejected.

Last week, all the countries that have signed up to the Aarhus Convention – including the EU –discussed adopting the findings of the UN Aarhus Compliance Committee at the Meeting of the Parties.

In March, the UN Committee found that the EU is breaching the Aarhus Convention by preventing the public from challenging the EU institutions’ environmental decisions in court.

At the Meeting of the Parties, the EU proposed to only “take note” of the findings instead of “endorsing” them, which is important because endorsing them makes them legally binding.

Since it was established in 2002, no state has ever rejected a finding of the Aarhus Committee – including the EU and the member states. By choosing to “take note” and not endorse the findings when it is themselves in the firing line, the EU has shown a worrying lack of respect for the rule of law.

This means that no decision will be taken until the next meeting of the parties in four years’ time.

ClientEarth lawyer Anais Berthier said: “With this proposal the EU has forfeited its leadership on the rule of law and upholding democratic values on the environment. If the parties to the Convention adopted the EU’s response, it would have set a disastrous precedent which could have weakened the integrity and undermined of the Aarhus system altogether.

“Postponing the decision was the best option we had. Otherwise, the EU would have singlehandedly ended 15 years of international agreement on access to justice.”

Having originally proposed to reject the Committee’s findings outright, the Commission has failed European citizens. People have a right to access the EU courts, and EU institutions must be accountable to the people they serve.

For now, the findings of the Committee remain and we will rely on them before the Courts. We will continue to push the Commission on access to justice so that it complies with the Aarhus Convention.

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