EU governments dust off rarely used treaty article to take Commission to task on environmental justice failings

Unrecognizable people on the street during political meeting, audience from behind, selective focus and retro toned image with lens flare.

EU Member States have today invoked a little-used treaty article to call on the European Commission to take steps to address the EU’s shortcomings when it comes to complying with international law on environmental justice.

The EEB welcomes today’s Council Decision to invoke Article 241 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which requires the Commission to address UN findings that show the EU is in breach of the Aarhus Convention [1]  – an international convention on environmental rights which all EU countries and the EU itself are party to.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations with around 140 organisations in more than 30 countries.

The European Commission initially sought to reject the finding of non-compliance but has belatedly put in place a lengthy process to explore options for resolving the problem.

EEB Secretary General Jeremy Wates said:

The fact that EU governments felt that they had no other option but to take the almost unprecedented step of invoking Article 241 of the Treaty shows the extent to which the Commission has gone out of its way to resist public accountability before the courts.

However, the EEB regrets that today’s Decision only gives a deadline of September 2020 to put forward new draft laws, effectively leaving it to the next Commission – and that it only states that the Commission should do so if deemed ‘appropriate’ following a study.

Jeremy Wates said:

It is widely recognised that the only effective way to resolve the problem is by amending the Aarhus Regulation. The Council Decision should have been clearer in insisting on that. Furthermore, the long-drawn out timeline proposed means that the EU is still likely to not be in compliance when the Convention’s governing body, the Meeting of the Parties, convenes in 2021.

This is clearly a lowest-common-denominator decision where some Member States have been influenced by the Commission’s foot-dragging approach. Nonetheless, the Decision is a significant step in the right direction and reflects the recognition that the EU’s credibility as a defender of the rule of law on the international stage has been severely damaged by its reluctance to address the access to justice deficit in the EU’s highest courts.


[1] The aim of the Aarhus Convention, adopted in 1998 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, is to guarantee the public and NGOs the right to information, participation and justice on environmental issues. Among other things, it should enable the public to have better access to European courts to challenge decisions that impact the environment.

EU governments dust off rarely used treaty article to take Commission to task on environmental justice failings
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