Press release: 10 June 2021

EU Commission claims complying with access to justice law is too much work

ClientEarth lawyers have expressed dismay as the EU’s Commissioner for the Environment told ministers that bringing the EU into compliance with international law would mean too much work for its services.

The comments came at a meeting of the EU’s Environment Council today.

The EU is currently reforming its access to justice laws with the aim of bringing the bloc into compliance with international treaty the Aarhus Convention. The EU has breached the treaty for decades by preventing people and NGOs from challenging environmental law-breaking in EU courts.

In December last year, the Council adopted a position that would leave the EU in non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention and undermine the EU’s reputation as an international leader on environmental protection and the rule of law.

At talks today, a number of Member States spoke in favour of remedying this and ensuring that the EU finally lives up to its commitments under the Convention. For instance, Luxembourg called on Member States to move towards the European Parliament’s position, which would have greatly improved EU access to justice rights.

But the Commission openly spoke against implementing all aspects of the Convention, arguing it would overload its services. Some Member States took the Commission’s side.

ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said: “We find it deeply disappointing that the Commission continues to block EU compliance with international rule of law by alleging that the task is too burdensome.

“As Luxembourg’s Minister Ms Carole Dieschbourg said today, not only the EU’s credibility but the survival of the Aarhus Convention as a whole is at stake. Member States must clearly position themselves on the side of international law compliance and environmental protection.”

In a very rare move, the Council had asked the Commission in 2018 to propose legislation to end the EU’s non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention.

This followed an outcry against the EU at the last Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Convention because of this long-standing failure on access to justice. The next MOP will take place in October 2021.

Friel added: “The EU will face another major outcry if it has not got its house in order by the next meeting of the Parties. The European Parliament has shown what needs to be done for the EU not to be accused of double standards of international and environmental law compliance. It’s time for the Council to get on board and restore public trust in the bloc as a reliable international partner in the fight against climate and biodiversity breakdown.”


Notes to editors:

Read about the EU’s path on access to justice: A 20 year journey towards access to justice – timeline

Read about EU’s access to justice problem: It’s time to unlock EU courts so we can better protect the environment

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.