Brussels (Brussels Morning) EU citizens will be able to access administrative acts from EU courts, following a vote to increase access to environmental justice by the European Parliament during yesterday’s plenary. Up until now, this had been only possible for recognised NGOs.
The revised legislation was adopted by 554 votes to 127, with 10 abstentions.
At stake is the Aarhus Regulation, an international environmental treaty that grants access to justice rights to the public, negotiated with EU countries to ensure that EU administrative acts are in line with green goals.
Shortly after the vote, MEP Christian Doleschal (EPP) described the outcome as having determined that “court proceedings should not be prohibitively expensive” by ensuring the EU’s compliance with its international obligations. “The outcome ensures respect for the EU treaties and provides legal certainty”, he said.
The vote was welcomed by the environmental NGO, ClientEarth “This is an historic moment that gives civil society a voice in the EU courts to protect the environment. Members of the public will now be able to hold EU institutions to account on their various obligations to fight climate change and biodiversity loss. It is an extra tool that will be crucial to enforce environmental laws and ensure EU decisions do not contradict the EU Green Deal”, the NGO stated.
The new law foresees that groups of people consisting of a minimum of 4,000 citizens — including at least 250 from each of five member states — will now be able to request a review of administrative decisions by EU courts in order to verify if they are in conformity with environmental law.
Additionally, the costs of the review process must be limited in order to enable NGOs and groups of concerned individuals to benefit from more affordable access to justice. To ensure this, EU institutions will only request reimbursement for reasonable costs in such proceedings.
“We increased transparency. We averted the danger of an ‘actio popularis’ where any citizen can put a stop to major EU projects and decisions via an administrative review that was intended to be a purely supplementary legal remedy. All in all, this was a very positive outcome”, Doleschal added.
EU in breach
In 2008, ClientEarth filed a complaint with the UN denouncing the EU for its failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention. In 2017, the EU was found to be in breach of its international law obligations by the UN authority responsible for overseeing compliance with the Convention.
The European Commission’s proposal for a revision of the Aarhus Regulation was only published in October 2020, leaving relatively little time for the Parliament and Council, as co-legislators, to find common ground on what the revised law should look like, before the Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention takes place on 18-20 October.