European Union Aarhus Centre news, January 2012

This update is published every second month. It reports on Aarhus-related developments at EU-level. Contributions from all sides – public authorities, NGOs, private persons – are welcome as they help ensure greater transparency.

Access to justice under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Aarhus Convention

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) (joined cases C-177/09 to C-179/09 of 17 November 2011) was called by the Belgian Conseil d’Etat for a preliminary ruling to interpret the access to justice provision of Directive 85/337 on environmental impact assessments (EIA Directive). The provision allows decisions taken within an EIA and submitted to public participation to be challenged. The Court also interprets Articles 6 and 9 of the Aarhus Convention providing access to justice to the public in environmental matters. In all cases, the ECJ reiterates its findings adopted in joined cases C-128/09 to C-131/09, C-134/09 and C-135/09 Boxus, judgment of 18-10-2011.

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Cases T-120/10 and T-449/10 ClientEarth and Others v. Commission, Orders of the General Court of 9 November 2011

In two cases versus the Commission (T-120/10 and T-449/10 orders of the General Court of 9 November 2011), ClientEarth alongside other NGOs, the European Federation for Transport and Environment, the European Environment Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife International, applied to the Commission for access to a number of documents concerning biofuels. The Commission only granted partial access to the documents without justifying its refusal properly. Two cases were brought before the General court.

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European agency releases documents requested about pesticide guidance

In April 2011, ClientEarth and Pesticides Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) launched a case in the General Court of the European Union against the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (case T-245/11). The case has been brought because EFSA is not being transparent about decisions that led to guidance on the interpretation of EU law applying to pesticides. EFSA’s guidance will allow pesticides used in agriculture to reach the EU market disregarding evidence from independent scientists.

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Spain escapes sanctions for the construction of oil refinery

In 2009, a Spanish environmental organisation introduced a complaint to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, arguing that Spain had infringed several provisions of the Aarhus Convention with regard to the procedure of constructing an oil refinery in Extremadura (ACCC/2009/36). In July 2010, the Compliance Committee concluded that during the procedure Spain had disregarded several provisions of the Convention. In the same month, the NGO sent a complaint to the Commission, requesting the opening of an infringement procedure against Spain. The Commission registered the complaint, but closed it in January 2011. The NGO then turned to the European Ombudsman.

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Spain evades laws to protect urban waste water

In 2000, a Spanish citizen raised a complaint with the European Commission because the urban waste water in the municipality of Vera was not treated in compliance with Directive 91/271 concerning urban waste-water treatment. The Commission opened procedures against Spain which ended by a judgment of the Court of Justice of 8 September 2005 (C-416/02). The Court found that Spain was in breach of EU law, because the urban waste water in Vera did not undergo the necessary tertiary treatment and the zone of Rambla de Mojacar had not been declared sensitive area under Directive 91/271. As Spain did not take the necessary measures, the Commission started a new procedure under Article 260 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

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European Parliament vote on access to documents

On 15 December 2011, the European Parliament adopted its first reading position within the review of Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents. This has been a long time coming since the Commission first adopted its proposal in 2008. The Commission’s proposal restricts the scope of the right of access through different means. ClientEarth, Access Info Europe and Greenpeace, continue with their campaign, supported by 131 NGOs and a number of investigative journalists, and have welcomed the European Parliament vote.

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EU bodies fail to disseminate information through public registers

The Aarhus Centre has warned both the Commission and the European Investment Bank of failure to comply with their obligation to actively disseminate environmental information through public registers – as required by the Aarhus Convention, Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents and Regulation 1367/2006 applying the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions and bodies.

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