Having for years remained in the Commission’s “freezer”, due to opposition by key member states such as the UK, the 2003 draft directive on access to environmental justice was officially withdrawn on May 21st. The Commission’s intention to withdraw the proposal was first announced in its October 2013 communication on the “REFIT – fit for Growth” plan to reduce regulatory burden and costly requirements on businesses. Another victim of the same decision was the Commission’s proposal for a Soil Directive (COM(2006) 232), which was also blocked by a group of member states for years.
According to Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General: “A new legislative proposal in this area is urgently needed, not only to create a more democratic Europe, not only to improve the implementation of environmental law, not only to create a more level playing field for business but also in order to ensure that the EU is fully in compliance with its obligations under international law, namely the Aarhus Convention.”
The draft directive of 2003 granted certain categories of the public access to judicial or administrative proceedings against acts by state authorities that contravene environmental law. It aimed to improve the implementation at the EU level of the 1998 UNECE Århus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and would be based on the administrative and judicial proceedings existing in Member States.
Access to justice on environmental issues is the only pillar of the Århus Convention that has not yet been adopted by the EU, the other two being public participation (Directive 2003/35/EC) and public access to environmental information ((Directive 2003/4/EC).