The European Union has come under pressure from a United Nations body to increase access to the EU courts in environmental matters, in line with the Aarhus Convention international treaty.

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC), the UN body responsible for safeguarding access to justice, says in new advice that the EU must increase possibilities for NGOs to legally challenge environmental wrongdoings, in order to comply with the treaty.

The EU has been breaching the Aarhus Convention for over a decade, and ClientEarth fought for a decade to secure a reform of the Aarhus Regulation to bring it into compliance.

However, the current reform proposed by the Commission is still not in line with international law. The ACCC confirmed this, calling for significant amendments.

ClientEarth lawyers have urged decision-makers to follow the UN draft advice, and restore the EU’s leadership in environmental protection and respect for the rule of law.

ClientEarth Environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said: “The ACCC’s draft advice is clear: the Commission’s current proposal to revise the Aarhus Regulation is a step in the right direction but does not align with its international obligations.

“The EU prides itself on being a leader in environmental protection and the rule of law but continues to breach international law – this undermines its leadership. Reforming the Aarhus Regulation is essential to restore the EU’s legitimacy across the globe and deliver the objectives of the European Green Deal.”

The draft law in its current state could still prevent people and NGOs from requesting review of numerous EU decisions that violate environmental law, like certain instances of State aid to the fossil fuel industry or authorisations of harmful pesticides like glyphosate.

The ACCC advised that the following amendments are needed to remedy these shortcomings:

  • Make sure all administrative decisions taken by the EU institutions and that have legal effects are subject to review, including those that require “implementing measures” at national level;
  • Make State aid decisions that break EU environmental law subject to review;
  • Allow individuals, as well as NGOs, to challenge unlawful EU decisions.

Friel added: “It is now up to the European Parliament to correct the shot and introduce the necessary amendments. The Council, meanwhile, should revise the position it adopted in December.”

The European Parliament has named a rapporteur for this file, which will be debated in the Environment Committee in April before a vote in plenary session in May.

* Source: ClientEarth