Wednesday

12th May 2021

EU environmental policy could face NGO lawsuits

The European Union has been told to ensure that NGOs can challenge its environmental policy in court, something EU institutions have so far failed to do.

It is unclear if the EU executive will follow up on the recommendation, however.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • EU court in Luxembourg should hear NGO suits, the UN-linked panel said (Photo: katarina_dzurekova)

Last Friday (17 March), the Aarhus Compliance Committee said the EU was not living up to its obligation to allow the public effective access to justice in environmental matters.

The Aarhus convention is a UN text that sets out principles for the rule of law in environmental legislation. The EU ratified it in 2005.

"This means the EU promised to provide information about environmental decisions, and allow citizens and green groups to participate in such decision-making,” Jonas Ebbesson, a professor of law at Stockholm University who chairs the Aarhus committee, said.

“The EU has also obliged itself to provide the possibility for the public to complain before court about EU decisions, or the failure to act on environmental matters," he added.

The Aarhus compliance committee is an independent body of legal experts who investigate complains from individuals in signatory states.

EU legislation implementing the convention limits the type of acts which may be challenged before the courts to measures of “individual scope”, whereas most of the decisions that NGOs seek to challenge are of “general scope”.

"We investigated and found the EU doesn't compensate for the lack of legal standing before the court with alternative mechanisms," the Swedish professor told this website. "This limits the rights of EU citizens."

Friday's recommendations were a response to a complaint filed by ClientEarth, a green pressure group, in 2008.

The NGO said in a written statement that barring it from court was "stark proof of the EU’s persistent democratic deficit".

ClientEarth's Robyn Meadwell told this website his organisation would, for instance, like to challenge last week's decision by the European Chemical Agency not to classify glyphosate as being carcinogenic.

He said it would also like to challenge EU fisheries quotas.

These are set by ministers behind closed doors in the EU Council.

NGOs have claimed for years that they exceed scientifically advised levels.

ClientEarth would also like to test in court commission decisions that allowed EU countries to exceed air pollution limits, kill protected species of animals, and give state aid for nuclear or coal plants.

It remains unsure what the commission will do in reaction to the committee's recommendations.

A spokesman on Monday said that the institution had yet to assess the recommendations.

"But we are sure we have been acting on sound legal basis," the spokesman, Enrico Brivio, said.

The Aarhus committee’s Ebbesson said he would be in Brussels on Wednesday to explain the recommendation to member state representatives in the Council.

In September, countries that have signed up to the Aarhus Convention - including the EU - will meet and discuss the findings of the committee.

"If the EU was to disagree here, not only would it be the first time this has ever happened, but it would send a dangerous signal to its citizens, to the member states and to the rest of the world that the EU has a highly selective approach when it comes to the rule of law," ClientEarth said.

EU declines to renew glyphosate licence

Member states did not agree on conditions to renew the permit for the chemical used in pesticides, amid contradictory evidence on a possible cancer link.

EU Council is 'black hole' in public trust

The EU Council, its most powerful institution, is a “black hole” unto the general public, hampering efforts to regain trust, a leading NGO has said.

Kerry resets climate relations before Glasgow summit

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy, was in Brussels to discuss how to tackle climate change with the European Commission. His appearance also marked a major shift in relations after the previous US administration under Donald Trump.

Commission: Pioneering Nordics' energy mix 'example' to EU

The Nordic electricity market is an example of successful market integration plus climate action, as the share of sustainable energy keeps growing, the European Commission said. However, the decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a challenge.

News in Brief

  1. Israeli rockets kill 20 people in Gaza retaliation
  2. No more EU expulsions likely over Russia bomb attacks
  3. EU ready to ignore Hungary veto on Hong Kong
  4. Borrell admits EU neglect of Western Balkans
  5. Macron accused of 'cowardice and deceit' in military letter
  6. EU citizens in UK applying for settled status face legal limbo
  7. Netherlands gives €2bn to offshore carbon storage project
  8. Germany will allow Johnson & Johnson vaccine for all ages

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Russia penetrated Merkel's 'inner circle', Khodorkovsky says
  2. First recovery euros could be paid out in July
  3. Commission wants help for Italy after weekend's migrant arrivals
  4. Mercosur trade deal will fuel 'poison pesticides' back into EU
  5. Can new Iran talks avoid mistakes of the original JCPOA?
  6. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  7. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  8. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us