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ClientEarth Communications

5th July 2017

Rule of law
Access to Justice for a Greener Europe

Rule of law scandal rocks EU as Commission calls to reject UN finding

The Commission is proposing to reject a UN finding that the EU is breaching international law. This would be the biggest scandal to hit the EU in 20 years.

In March, a UN body known as the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found that the EU is breaching the Aarhus Convention because it prevents members of the public and NGOs challenging EU institutions’ decisions in court.

ClientEarth lawyer Anaïs Berthier said: “The Commission’s proposal sets a disastrous precedent and sends a clear signal that the Commission considers EU institutions exempt from international law. Apparently it believes only national governments and other parties to the Convention should ensure the public access to justice. The Commission’s proposal undermines democracy and the Commission itself, which should uphold democratic values and put public interests first.”

No individuals or NGOs have ever been given permission to challenge an EU decision on pollution, water, climate or other environmental issues, despite the fact that they have a daily impact on people’s lives.

While access to the EU courts is granted to the industry to defend their economic and financial interests, the public interests like health and environmental protection remain unrepresented before the EU Courts. The findings of the Compliance Committee address that imbalanced situation.

None of the state parties to the Convention has ever rejected a finding of the Committee since it was set up in 2002. In rejecting this finding – the first where the EU itself has been found to be in breach of the law - it shows that the EU has a highly selective approach to the rule of law.

It will also embolden other non-compliant Aarhus signatories - like countries with questionable human rights records - to challenge the Committee’s findings.

Democracy and the credibility of the EU are the main losers in this disastrous decision, which is the biggest scandal since the Aarhus Convention was adopted in 1998.

Read the first letter ClientEarth and EEB sent to the environment ministers of the EU member states addressing the EU's non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention

And the second letter here