Access to environmental justice is critical to implementing the EU Green Deal

A recent EESC report welcomes the Commission's proposal to revise the EU Aarhus Regulation and improve access to administrative and judicial review in environmental matters for individuals and NGOs, but stresses that the revamped regulation does not go far enough.

Despite being a party to the Aarhus Convention since 2005, the European Union is still not fully complying with its "access to justice" provisions.

The amended regulation proposed by the Commission is a step forward and an essential tool for implementing the European Green Deal, says the EESC, which generally welcomed the proposed amendments in a report adopted in January.

However, rapporteur Arnaud Schwartz has flagged up loopholes in the new regulation that may be used by EU institutions to avoid being held accountable.

For example, the EESC does not endorse the Commission's proposal to exclude EU acts which involve "national implementing measures", because there is a real possibility that this exclusion could invalidate or water down the Commission regulation.

In addition, the EESC is concerned about the reform of the "internal review mechanism", which in the original Aarhus Regulation allowed environmental NGOs to challenge EU administrative acts and omissions. Allowing civil society organisations to conduct a review only when the implementing measures have been adopted would prevent many, if not most, EU acts and omissions being open to internal review.

The EESC also calls on the Commission to facilitate access to justice for all civil society organisations.

"The social partners are key players in environmental issues, and they should be explicitly recognised as regards access to justice," stressed Isabel Caño Aguilar, EESC co-rapporteur. "To make judicial review accessible in practice, civil society organisations should not face extra burdens, such as additional costs and bureaucratic measures," Ms Caño concluded. (mr)