On 17 January 2019, ÖKOBÜRO held the first EARL training in the office of the Environmental Ombudswoman of Vienna (Umweltanwaltschaft Wien). She attended the training together with her staff and other participants coming from the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, an environmental NGO, the nature conservation department of Vienna and the Law faculty of the University of Vienna.
The relevant provisions of the Aarhus Convention, EU law and Austrian law were presented to the audience, along with the most important case law of the ACCC, the CJEU and the Austrian supreme administrative court and the specific barriers to access to justice in Austria.
The discussion later focused on the recent draft legislation affecting access to justice in Austria at the federal and state levels:
- In November 2018, the Federal legislator amended the Water Rights Act, the Waste Management Act and the Air Pollution Control Act to implement Article 9(3) Aarhus Convention. However, these amendments still do not fully implement the right of access to justice and raise many other questions (e.g. no suspensive effect on complaints by NGOs, retroactive appeal only for one year, etc.).
- In parallel, three federal states have submitted drafts for the implementation of the Aarhus Convention within their competences (e.g. nature conservation, hunting and fisheries). However, they could not be more varied and have just as many gaps as the legislation mentioned above. For example, according to the current drafts, a full party status for NGOs in nature impact assessments is only granted in one federal state and omissions, plans, programmes and regulations still cannot be challenged at all.
As a result, attendees acknowledged that the broad access to justice and generous rules of participation demanded by the Aarhus Convention would probably not be granted and that great legal uncertainty was inevitable.
Due to ongoing legislative processes and numerous uncertainties, it also remains to be seen which changes will eventually come into force and how they will be applied in practice.
The next training sessions will address further developments in these matters.