Application of the Aarhus Convention - Access to Justice in Environmental Matters

EESC opinion: Application of the Aarhus Convention - Access to Justice in Environmental Matters

Key points

  • The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the Commission's proposal to strengthen the internal review mechanism contained in the Aarhus Regulation and appreciates its potential.
  • The EESC supports the four priority actions identified in the Commission's Communication, namely:
    • the Member States' obligation to fully and correctly transpose access to justice requirements stemming from EU secondary law,
    • the need for co-legislators to include provisions on access to justice in new and revised EU legislation concerning environmental matters,
    • the review by Member States of their own national legislative and regulatory provisions that prevent or undermine access to justice, and
    • the obligation of national courts to guarantee the right of individuals and NGOs to an effective remedy under EU law.
  • Nevertheless, the EESC points out to the Commission that its proposal contains loopholes which may be used by institutions to avoid being held accountable.
  • Thus, for example, the EESC does not endorse the Commission's proposal to exclude EU acts entailing "national implementing measures", because there is a real possibility that this exclusion could nullify or devalue the Commission proposal.
  • The EESC is also concerned that allowing civil society organisations (CSOs) to conduct a review only when the implementing measures have been adopted would insulate many, if not most, EU acts and omissions from internal review.
  • Despite the arguments set out by the Commission, the EESC notes that non-legally binding EU acts can have significant effects both on the implementation of EU legislation and on its interpretation by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
  • The social partners are key players in environmental issues, and the EESC therefore urges that they be explicitly recognised as regards access to justice.
  • The EESC stresses that the new Regulation should permit internal review of Commission state aid decisions.
  • The EESC considers that protection of CSOs from extra burdens (like additional costs and bureaucratic measures) at both national and EU levels must be properly ensured in order to make judicial review accessible in practice.