EU ambassadors endorse update to legislation on access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus Regulation)

26 Jul 2021 01:15 PM

EU ambassadors recently (23 July 2021) approved a provisional political agreement reached with the European Parliament on 12 July on a proposal to revise the Aarhus Regulation, in order to bring it fully in line with the Aarhus Convention. The Aarhus Regulation sets out how the EU and its member states implement the international Aarhus Convention, which aims to guarantee access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. The provisional agreement is subject to approval by both institutions, after which it will be formally adopted through the ordinary legislative procedure.

Tamara Weingerl Po┼żar, Deputy Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the EU recently said:

The EU and its member states are highly committed to the principles of the Aarhus Convention. The agreement reached responds to the concerns laid down by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in the case concerned and provides us with a strong basis to present our unified position at the Meeting of Parties of the Aarhus Convention in October 2021.

The aim of the proposal is to ensure that the EU fully complies with the Convention concerning the right of the public to review administrative acts. These are non-legislative acts adopted by an EU institution or body, which have legal and external effects and contain provisions that may, because of their effects, contravene environmental law.

The Council and Parliament negotiators agreed among other things to:

Background and next steps

The EU implements the Aarhus Convention through Regulation (EC) No 1367/2006. This regulation allows individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to launch proceedings before the European Courts against the decisions of EU institutions and bodies.

In follow-up to a complaint of an NGO in 2008, alleging a failure of the EU to comply with the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environment matters, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee concluded, in case C-32 of 2017, that the EU was in non-compliance with Article 9, paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Convention concerning access to justice by members of the public.

As a follow-up, the Council adopted in 2018 a decision requesting the Commission to submit a study on the Union's options for addressing the findings of the Compliance Committee and, if appropriate in view of the outcomes of the study, a proposal to amend the Aarhus Regulation.

On 14 October 2020, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal amending the Aarhus Regulation No. 1367/2006 to allow for better public scrutiny of EU acts affecting the environment. The proposed amendments aim to make it easier to request that the EU institutions review such acts to better ensure environmental protection.

The Council reached a general approach on the proposal on 17 December 2020, allowing the Council Presidency to start trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament.

The text of the provisional agreement, approved by the member states’ ambassadors, will now be submitted for endorsement to the Parliament Environment Committee. If approved, the European Parliament and then the Council will adopt the text at first reading without amendments, in the months to come.

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