The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) calls on the European Union to prevent a rule of law fiasco ahead of next week’s seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention (MoP-7), and accept the findings of the Compliance Committee related to the non-compliance by the EU. Doing otherwise would seriously undermine the credibility of the EU and its Member States.
The EU and its Member States are Parties to the international Aarhus Convention, a groundbreaking environmental democracy instrument guaranteeing the public rights to information, participation, and justice in environmental issues. However, the EU’s behaviour at MoP-6 four years ago threatened to undermine the Convention, as well as the EU’s own credibility as a proponent of rule of law, causing outrage among the other Parties and stakeholders. The EU now seems intent on repeating the mistake.
In 2017, the EU was found in non-compliance with the Convention’s requirements to grant sufficiently wide access to justice to NGOs and citizens. During MoP-6 in 2017, the EU caused an international outcry when it sought exceptional treatment and blocked the endorsement of a finding against itself by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee – a move until then unprecedented in the history of the Convention, which has always seen findings being endorsed by all the Parties by consensus. In the words of Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the EEB:
By only opposing MoP endorsement of findings of non-compliance when they concern its own non-compliance, the EU is guilty of staggering hypocrisy. It shows a dizzying disrespect for the international rule of law which is very much at odds with the image it wants to project around the world, for example in relation to Brexit or Belarus, not to mention within the EU. And it shows a reckless disregard for the potential damage its position can cause to democratization efforts in the wider European and Central Asian region.
In the four years since then, the EU’s internal law (the Aarhus Regulation) implementing democratic environmental rights was successfully revised to address several findings of non-compliance. But just this week, the Council adopted a formal decision that the EU should block yet another case – related to access to justice on state aid issues – from being endorsed at next week’s international Aarhus gathering. Francesca Carlsson, Senior Legal Officer of the EEB explains:
In the revision of the Aarhus Regulation, the Commission already committed itself to analyse and address the state aid finding in the next years. So, the issue here does not seem to be one of disagreement as to whether the EU will need to implement the findings. This is about the Commission and EU Member States putting their own interests of not being challenged above the interests of the European public.
The members of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee are esteemed international lawyers and academics, who are experts in their field, elected directly by the MoP by consensus. The Committee is an independent body of the Aarhus Convention, and its findings are authoritative interpretations of international law. The practice has always been to endorse these findings at the MOP, so that they become binding. On a final note, Carlsson adds:
By not endorsing the Committee’s findings at this MoP, the EU is damaging the checks and balances set in place under the Convention. For next week, we appeal to the EU not to disrespect all other Parties to the Aarhus Convention, yet again, but to endorse all the Compliance Committee findings.