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ClientEarth Communications

28th November 2017

Rule of law
Access to Justice for a Greener Europe

Access to Justice update from ClientEarth and Justice & Environment - November 2017


Members of the public still do not enjoy a uniform right of access to justice in environmental matters across Europe, despite positive developments at EU level.

Lately, we were glad to see that the European Parliament finally took a step forward, calling on the European Commission to introduce legislative proposals on access to justice in the Member States and at EU level. This is indeed seriously needed. The Greenpeace Energy case is an additional example of an EU decision that cannot be challenged and scrutinised by the EU courts. And access to justice at national level continues to be fragmented.

Despite the positive and unambiguous case-law of the Court of Justice of the EU giving members of the public access to justice to challenge public authorities for failing to adopt air quality plans limiting emissions of pollutants, national courts tend to react differently when facing citizens asking for justice in environmental matters.

Last summer, we welcomed the decision of the French higher administrative Court (Conseil d’Etat), ordering the French government to produce plans to achieve air quality limit values. This autumn, clean air was again at the top of the Access to Justice agenda. In Belgium, the fight for clean air has recently pushed Brussels citizens and the NGO ClientEarth to sue public authorities for non-compliance with air quality standards. The ruling is expected next week.

However, similar attempts by citizens and NGOs have not always been as successful as in France. Our ongoing case in Poland demonstrates this point. Such differences in the interpretation of the case-law of the EU Courts creates an uneven playing field within the European Union, threatening the homogeneous implementation of environmental law.

The Access to Justice for a Greener Europe project aims at tackling this issue by disseminating information to public authorities, the judiciary, lawyers and NGOs throughout the EU. In this newsletter, we provide you with analysis of recent legal developments around access to justice in EU and national law.

Anaïs Berthier, Senior lawyer, Environmental Democracy project leader, ClientEarth

Our Analysis

The challenge of challenging air quality programs in Poland - The Silesian air quality program and the issue of standing

In February 2016, a resident of the town of Rybnik located in the region of Silesia, Poland, demanded that the Silesian Regional Assembly amend the air quality program it had adopted in 2014 for the region of Silesia. Read the full analysis by Boleslaw Matusweski.

Highest administrative court grants access to justice and upholds right to clean air in France

On 11 July 2017, the Conseil d’État ordered the French government to produce plans to achieve air quality limit values in the shortest time possible. A significant decision, which overrules previous decisions from French courts preventing citizens and NGOs to claim their right to clean air in courts. Read the full analysis by Ugo Taddei.

European Parliament calls on the Commission to propose legislation on Access to Justice in Member States and the EU

On 15 November, the European Parliament adopted Resolution 2017/2819 in response to the Commission’s Communication on an Action Plan for Nature, People and the Economy, published in April this year. Read the full analysis by Anne Friel.

Case C-640/16 P, Greenpeace Energy v Commission, Judgment of 10 October 2017, ECLI:EU:C:2017:752

The European Court of Justice has confirmed the inadmissibility of Greenpeace Energy’s application for annulment of the Commission’s decision approving State aid for the nuclear power plant, Hinkley Point C. Read the full analysis by Linli-Sophie Pan-Van de Meulebroeke.

Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee confirms that access to courts to challenge wind turbine permits cannot be dependent only on distance

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has ruled that access to courts to challenge wind turbine permits cannot be dependent only on the distance from the complainer’s property, but fails to call out Sweden for non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention. Read the full analysis by Linli-Sophie Pan-Van de Meulebroeke.

The Project

Access to justice is a fundamental means through which citizens and NGOs can support the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies to protect the environment.

This project aims at enhancing access to justice in environmental matters by providing information, training and support for the judiciary, public authorities and lawyers of eight European member states.

For more information, visit our project website

ClientEarth and Justice and Environment are implementing this project with the financial support of the European Commission's LIFE instrument.