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Strategic Environmental Assessment: The Term “Plans and Programmes” as Interpreted by the European Court of Justice

Thomas Bunge

elni Review 2019, pp. 2-9. https://doi.org/10.46850/elni.2019.001

One of the key terms of the SEA Directive is ‘Plans and Programmes’, defining the range of application of strategic environmental assessment. Although this notion has a high degree of relevance, the Directive itself abstains from a clear-cut definition. It rather presupposes what is meant and only lays down for which specific plans and programmes SEA is mandatory. Two provisions deal with the matter: Article 2 (Definitions) and Article 3 (‘Scope’). 
The European Court of Justice interprets these provisions broadly, as it has pointed out several times. This view is based on the general intention of the SEA Directive to provide for a high level of protection of the environment, as laid down in its Article 1, and on its objective to subject plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment to an environmental assessment. Thus, the Court extends its general understanding of the EIA Directive (2011/92/EU) also to the SEA Directive – an argument which, in view of the close relationship and far-reaching similarities of these directives, certainly seems adequate, since Article 3(1) of the SEA Directive makes it clear that SEA is required for plans and programmes due to the effects on the environment they have when implemented. A parallel provision exists in Article 2(1) of the EIA Directive.
This contribution outlines the main elements of these provisions as interpreted by the Court. It begins by briefly addressing the Court’s views regarding Article 2 lit. (a), and then deals with the various components of Article 3(1) to (4).

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References

  1. Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, OJ 2001 L 197/30.
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