The European Union has faced fierce criticism for its failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention, which guarantees access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.
The Convention should guarantee citizens’ access to the EU courts to challenge decisions that affect their environment but currently the levels of access to justice at EU level do not meet the requirements of the Convention, leaving citizens and NGOs at a disadvantage compared to businesses which can go to court to defend their commercial interests.
Member States have been explicit in demanding that the Commission take steps to bring the EU into compliance with this international law, insisting that a legislative proposal to revise the EU implementing legislation, known as the Aarhus Regulation, be issued no later than September 2020 – which makes its omission from the Commission Work Programme not only cause for alarm for citizens but also a potential snub to Member States.
Responding to the Commission’s work programme EEB Secretary General Jeremy Wates said:
“Failing to take environmental rights seriously is not the kind of thing we would expect from a self-styled ‘Green Deal Commission’. While not including a commitment to come with a legislative proposal to revise the Aarhus Regulation does not mean that it will not happen, it is now urgent that the Commission publicly clarifies its intentions on the issue and commits to bring forward a legislative proposal without further delay.”
Last week the EEB, ClientEarth and Justice & Environment wrote to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to remind her of the importance of including a proposal for a revision of the Aarhus Regulation in her 2020 Work Programme.
The Work Programme does controversially include a renewed commitment to so-called ‘Better Regulation’. This approach, championed by the Juncker Commission, is framed as a way to reduce “burdens” on businesses, but social and environmental groups say it puts profits before people and the environment and seeks to strip away essential protections.
Patrick ten Brink, the EEB’s EU Policy Director said:
“The Commission is tying its own hands by insisting on a “one in, one out” approach to new laws at just the moment new measures are required to deliver the Green Deal and take on climate and environmental breakdown. However, their commitment to a green oath to ‘do no harm’ and the promise that environmental standards will not be weakened should be welcomed.”
The Commission Work Programme contains many positive elements that were already announced in the European Green Deal Communication in December. Among these is the commitment to reform the European Semester to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals and to ensure the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its global goals to be at the heart of policymaking. The Work Programme goes one step further.
Patrizia Heidegger, the EEB’s Global Policy Director said:
“We welcome that the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs gradually gain more attention from this new Commission. In its Work Programme, the Commission now promises to put forward its approach of how to organise itself better and how to realise the goals. It is high time for the European Commission to develop an implementation strategy for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs so they can become the compass for all our efforts.”
The EEB is concerned that bringing out the proposals for 2030 greenhouse gas reductions only in the second half of the year may be too late to influence the crucial COP-26 in Glasgow in November.
The European Environmental Bureau is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens organisations with 160 members in 35 countries.
Anton Lazarus, Communications Manager