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ClientEarth Communications

1st May 2019


Lawyers report Bulgaria and Poland to EU Commission for blocking access to justice to ensure clean air

ClientEarth has called on the European Commission to take action against Bulgaria and Poland for blocking people’s access to the courts to protect their right to breathe clean air.

The Court of Justice of the EU has already ruled that the two countries have broken EU air quality laws for having levels of pollution continuously and significantly above the legal limits.

However, due to national laws, people and environmental organisations are unable to hold governments to account and challenge air quality plans that fail to reduce air pollution to within legal limits.

ClientEarth has submitted a complaint to the Commission arguing that, by preventing people from challenging these plans, Bulgaria and Poland are breaking core principles of the EU legal system, including the principle of effective judicial protection, and provisions of international laws binding EU member states under the Aarhus Convention.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “Bulgarian and Polish national laws systematically block access to the courts to people affected by illegal and harmful levels of air pollution. This situation is particularly alarming, as Bulgaria and Poland have some of the most polluted air in Europe. However, citizens and NGOs cannot obtain judicial protection of their right to a healthy environment.

“A growing number of ordinary people, environmental and health groups are successfully using national courts to demand clean air all across Europe, from Germany to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgarian and Polish citizens deserve exactly the same level of protection afforded by EU law. This is why we are asking the Commission to step in and take action to confront these issues.”

Bulgarian environmental group Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) has already challenged several of Bulgaria’s air quality plans. However, Bulgarian courts systematically refuse legal standing to Za Zemiata as well as to concerned individuals to challenge the country’s plans.

Regina Stoilova, a Bulgarian lawyer from Za Zemiata who is supporting the case said: “When national courts deny legal standing in clean air cases, they not only violate EU laws, but also strip citizens of their civil rights. We would encourage Bulgarian and Polish judges to fully apply EU law and allow people to obtain judicial protection in environmental and air quality matters.

“The right to a healthy environment is no less important than other civil rights. National courts must respond to the increased demand to secure a healthy environment for all.”

The Commission will review ClientEarth’s complaint and decide whether to start infringement proceedings against Bulgaria and Poland.

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. The goal of this ATOJ-EARL project is to achieve “Access to Justice for a Greener Europe”. It strives to enhance access to justice in environmental matters by providing information, training and support for the judiciary, public authorities and lawyers of eight European member states. ClientEarth and Justice and Environment are implementing this project with the financial support of the European Commission’s LIFE instrument.