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The ECJ Rules Environmental NGOs Must Have Access to Justice in Water Law Procedures

Summer Kern and Gregor Schamschula

elni Review 2018, Issue 1, pp. 7-10.

The Aarhus Convention was adopted in 1998 within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, following Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. This principle states that “[e]nvironmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens [...]”. The Convention is an international treaty with three pillars, namely (1) Access to Information; (2) Public Participation; and (3) Access to Justice. As the Implementation Guide makes clear: “The three pillars depend on each other for full implementation of the Convention’s objectives.” 
The Convention has as of the date of this publication 47 Parties. Austria ratified the treaty in early 2005, as did the EU. As made clear by the EU’s declaration upon ratification, implementation of the Aarhus Convention partly falls within the competence of the EU and partly within the competence of the Member States. With regards to Art. 9(3) in particular, the EU declared upon approval of the Convention that “the legal instruments in force do not cover fully the implementation of the obligations.” Yet the EU has recognized the drawbacks of this lack of implementation at the EU level repeatedly, and most recently issued a Notice on Access to Justice for the Member States so as to achieve better implementation and consistency within the Member States. 
This article assesses the current developments of implementation with regard to Access on Justice in Austrian Water Law. The ruling in question can certainly be seen as milestone in environmental case law.

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  1. Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, 25.6.1998, 37770 UNTS 119.
  2. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 13.6.1992, UN Doc A/CONF151/26 (vol I); 31 ILM 874 (1992).
  3. UNECE, Environmental Policy, Public Participation, Status of ratification.
  4. Übereinkommen von Aarhus über den Zugang zu Informationen, die Öffentlichkeitsbeteiligung an Entscheidungsverfahren und den Zugang zu Gerichten in Umweltangelegenheiten samt Erklärung (NR: GP XXII RV 654 AB 662 S. 82. BR: AB 7150 S. 715.), BGBl. III 88/2005.
  5. Council Decision 2005/370/EC of 17 February 2005 on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to in- formation, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, OJ 2005 L 142/1.
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  8. Council Directive 96/82/EC of 9 December 1996 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, OJ 1997 L 10/13.
  9. Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control), OJ 2010 L 334/17.
  10. VwGH 27.04.2012, 2009/02/0239.
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  12. Decision V/9b, Decision V/9b on compliance by Austria with its obligations under the Aarhus Convention, Second progress report on behalf of Austria.
  13. VwGH Ra 2015/07/0051 and Ra 2015/07/0055.
  14. Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy, OJ 2000 L 327/1.
  15. Court of Justice of the European Union, 2016, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 8 November 2016. Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK v Obvodný úrad Trenčín. Request for a preliminary ruling from the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky. Reference for a preliminary ruling — Environment — Directive 92/43/EEC — Conservation of natural habitats — Article 6(3) — Aarhus Convention — Public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters — Articles 6 and 9 — Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — Article 47 — Right to effective judicial protection — Project to construct an enclosure — Protected site ‘Strážovské vrchy’ — Administrative authorisation procedure — Environmental organisation — Request for the status of party to the procedure — Rejection — Legal action (Case C-243/15).
  16. VwGH 23.5.2017, Ra 2017/10/0058.
  17. LVwG Tyrol 21.2.2018 LVwG-2018/44/0055-6.
  18. VwGH 19.2.2018 Ra 2015/07/0074-6.
  19. Court of Justice of the European Union, 2008, Judgment of the Court (Second Chamber) of 25 July 2008.Dieter Janecek v Freistaat Bayern. Reference for a preliminary ruling: Bundesverwaltungsgericht - Germany. Directive 96/62/EC - Ambient air quality assessment and management - Fixing of limit values - Entitlement of a third party, whose health has been impaired, to have an action plan drawn up (Case C-237/07).
  20. Court of Justice of the European Union, 1998, Judgment of the Court of 1 December 1998. B.S. Levez v T.H. Jennings (Harlow Pools) Ltd. Reference for a preliminary ruling: Employment Appeal Tribunal, London - United Kingdom. Social policy - Men and women - Equal pay - Article 119 of the EC Treaty - Directive 75/117/EEC - Remedies for breach of the prohibition on discrimination - Pay arrears - Domestic legislation placing a two-year limit on awards for the period prior to the institution of proceedings - Similar domestic actions (Case C-326/96).
  21. Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds, OJ 2010 L 20/7.