Challenge accepted – Five reasons NGOs won’t see you in court: EU governments warned to remove barriers to justice

Challenging environmentally damaging decisions in court is burdensome and barriers to justice are widespread across the EU, according to the new EEB report published today.

Accessing justice for environmental matters is a struggle in the EU, a new report finds. Despite having some of the most advanced environmental laws, Member States are failing in some cases to ensure access to justice for NGOs and citizens can challenge questionable decisions in the courts.

The ‘Challenge Accepted?’ report identifies and explains five current barriers to access to justice: ‘standing’, ‘time’, ‘knowledge’, ‘money’ and ‘repercussions’ and makes key recommendations to remove these barriers.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with around 150 members in over 30 countries.


Francesca Carlsson, Legal Officer at the EEB, said:

“Time and again in Europe citizens have stood up to dangerous government decisions by challenging them in court. In the UK and Spain, governments have been forced to act on air pollution, in Portugal off-shore oil-drilling was abandoned and in Germany logging in the Hambach forest was stopped – all thanks to legal challenges by citizens’ groups.

NGOs must be able to continue to play this important role as watchdogs of Europe’s hard-won environmental protections.

Member States should work to ensure access to courts, allow citizens and NGOs to stand, promote appropriate timelines, limit costs, give capacity to judges, and protect citizens from possible repercussions.”


Key facts:

  • In 2003, the Commission had a legislative proposal for a Directive on Access to Justice, but this initiative was blocked by the Member States and remained dormant in the Council for years. In 2014 the proposal was eventually abandoned.
  • Timelines can be extremely restrictive for NGOs. Member States should ensure that enough time is allocated to NGOs to take part in the legal process.
  • In some countries outside the EU, notably in China and India, there are specialised environmental courts where the judges presiding have the scientific knowledge to hear environmental cases.
  • The Anti-SLAPP Directive in preparation doesn’t include NGOs, the EEB thinks it is a mistake as NGOs are a key player in the protection of the environment


Challenge accepted - Report


The report is the first in a series of four. The next report will be released ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2019, and will focus on Public Participation as a tool for implementing environmental rules in Member States. For more information on the Implement For LIFE project of the EEB, click here.

For more information:

For more information:

Marie-Amelie Brun, Communications Officer

+32 2790 88 17

Challenge accepted – Five reasons NGOs won’t see you in court: EU governments warned to remove barriers to justice
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