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Press release: 20 May 2021
The European Parliament has voted to reduce the barriers currently blocking members of the public from challenging environmental law-breaking in EU courts. Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have welcomed the move.
The Parliament’s report, voted in plenary today, is a vast improvement on the Commission’s proposed reform of the Aarhus Regulation and would bring the EU closer to compliance with international law on access to justice the Aarhus Convention.
The EU has been in violation of this international environmental treaty for over a decade.
This Parliament’s position would ensure that all administrative decisions taken by the EU institutions can be challenged if they break environmental laws.
For example, decisions approving harmful pesticides, enabling funding to coal plants, setting dangerously high fishing limits or letting cars exceed emission limits would become challengeable.
An important point of the Parliament’s position is the inclusion of Commission State aid decisions in what can be challenged. These decisions approve massive public subsidies which can have a severe impact on the environment.
The Parliament also made a clear commitment to allowing access to individuals as well as NGOs.
ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said: “Access to justice is a basic right in every democracy but NGOs and members of the public have never been entitled to go to the EU courts to protect the environment. The Parliament has made a vital step by championing this right today.”
The Parliament’s vote clashes with the Commission’s position, as defended by the Commissioner for the Environment Virginius Sinkevičius before the Parliament yesterday. He criticised the Parliament’s approach, alleging that it conflicts with the EU legal order.
“As the Parliament rapporteur Mr. Doleschal emphasized, all of the changes approved by the Parliament today are fully in line with the EU Treaties. The Commissioner’s statements are a weak attempt to disguise the Commission’s political preferences as legal necessity.”
The European Parliament vote will be followed by trilogue negotiations with the Council before the amendment is signed into law.
“We are now looking to the Council to engage in a constructive effort during the trilogue negotiations with the other EU institutions to empower the public to protect the environment. This is essential to the delivery of the EU Green Deal."
Following a legal challenge by ClientEarth, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) found in 2017 that the EU was breaching the Convention by failing to provide sufficient means to challenge environmental law breaking in EU courts.
But the Commission’s recent reform proposal to comply with the international treaty on environmental democracy failed to meet the requirements of the Convention.
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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.