PAN EuropeNews


Press Release

7th October 2013

European Commission attempts to suppress citizens’ access to environmental justice

On Wednesday last week, the European Commission has exposed its REFIT (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme) plan to increase Commission’s efficiency by reducing “regulatory burdens” [1] under the slogan "the EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on small things. A very sad attempt to deregulate environmental legislation, and definitely a wrong slogan for what is bigger for our future than taking care of the EU environment and public health?

According to the communication on the REFIT, the Commission is planning to withdraw the access of NGO’s to the European Court of Justice on environmental matters [2]. Commission apparently also wishes to stop the setting of a soil framework directive despite the major asset it represents for biodiversity preservation and climate change. Two topics where we need much more European leadership rather than less. The information has apparently been nuanced[3] but it is still worrying.

Aarhus convention has been signed by the EU in 1998 and is based on three pillars concerning environmental governance:  give access to environmental information to citizens, include the general public in the environmental debate before the decision and give access to justice in case a party fails to adhere to environmental law.

Access to court is the only direct means environmental NGO’s have to oblige the European Commission to apply environmental law in its legislation. This has been done, for instance, by PAN Europe and Stichting Natuur en Milieu in 2008 [4].

After refusing to apply the signed Aarhus Convention in a case launched by PAN Europe, after appealing a judgement from the European Court of Justice obliging the European Commission to take into consideration PAN Europe’s request for internal review on environmental matters, the Commission is now writing about suppressing this right while industry’s court cases will still be considered as part of the game. President Barroso’s proposal would therefore put citizens and environment in a very unfair position, only giving more power to industries, and unbalancing even more an already critical situation. This will only give more reasons for the citizens, already very sceptical not even one year before the next EU elections, to dislike the European Union.

Concerning the “regulatory burden” provoked by NGO’s, we would like to underline that the NGO’s Court cases number is very limited, since the Aarhus convention entered into force in 2001. On the other hand, chemical industry is currently running over 60 court cases against the Commission on pesticides. Court cases suppose expensive lawyer costs and this is one of the reasons so few NGO’s go to court whereas industries are able to pay numerous lawyers, requesting for damage claims and thus putting pressure on Commission’s freedom to decide in the general interest.

It is especially absurd to make this proposal, now as during the 2012 negotiations on the setting of the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP), both the the Council confirmed that it set as a priority “access to justice in line with the Aarhus convention” [5] and the European Parliament “underlines that the 7th EAP should provide for the full implementation of the Aarhus Convention, in particular regarding access to justice” [6], the European Commission would thus openly go against democracy in environmental matters.

If Barroso’s proposal to cancel the setting of a Soil framework directive is confirmed it would be very dangerous for the future of farming. Soils provide an incredible range of services to mankind and the environment, from permitting to produce food to carbon storage or water filtration. Furthermore, by proposing to suppress soil framework directive, Commission would show it does not have a long-term stable policy as in the recently approved European environmental action programme to 2020, one of Commission’s goals is to deal with “soil quality issues within a binding legal framework” [7].

François Veillerette, PAN Europe’s President says “It is a very sad tendency that in a slogan ‘We need EU to be big on big things and smaller on small things’, Barroso’s Commission is proposing to weaken environmental law. One of the main pillars for the EU in the future must be to do more for the EU environment rather than less. As a Native American Proverb says ‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’.”

— ENDS —

Further information

For further information please contact:

Martin Dermine: Tel: +32 (0)486 32 99 92,

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