четвъртък, 9 март 2017 г.

Court of Justice confirms NGO public participation and access to justice rights in the context of the Habitats Directive

Environmentalists working to protect brown bears in Slovakia have been granted the right to defend the animals’ habitats in courts. The November ruling from the Court of Justice is an important development for environmental groups across the EU, because it confirms their rights to public participation and access to justice in the context of the Habitats directive. ClientEarth senior lawyer Ludwig Kramer comments.

Court of Justice, case C-243/15 Lesoochranárske zoskupenie, judgment of 8 November 2016, ECLI:EU:C:2016:838

The Court of Justice interprets Article 6 of the Habitats Directive in light of the Aarhus Convention to give Environmental NGOs public participation rights.
The Court also confirms that NGOs must be able to access the courts to enforce these rights by virtue of Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention and Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
This was a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU. The Slovak authorities authorized a project “relating to the construction of an enclosure” within a site of EU interest.
The applicant, an environmental organization, was opposed to that project and brought a case before a Slovak court. Its application was dismissed because, under Slovak law, environmental organizations do not qualify as parties in administrative procedures concerning authorizations.
The Slovak Supreme Court which had to decide on an appeal by the applicant asked the Court of Justice whether the exclusion was compatible with EU law.
The Court of Justice held that Article 47 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights provided for effective judicial remedies.
The Aarhus Convention established a right to participate (Article 6) and the right to address the courts if this right was not respected (Article 9).
Furthermore, Article 6(3) of directive 92/43 on the protection of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora meant that as much information as possible should be collected in order to allow the administration to decide whether a project within a protected habitat could be authorized.
This meant, according to the ECJ, that an environmental organization had a right to participate in the administrative decision-making procedure and that it should be able to address a court if this right was not respected. The Slovak provision, according to which such access to courts was not possible, was thus held incompatible with EU law.
The essentially new element of this judgment is the recognition of a right to participate in decisions under Article 6 of directive 92/43 for environmental organizations.
Though the ECJ did not decide on this, the logic of the judgment suggests that this applies to all decisions under Article 6, in particular also to decisions on whether a project is justified by imperative reasons of overriding public interest.
It is the first time that the ECJ has recognized this right of participation and, subsequently, the right of access to courts in an environmental case.

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