2021 amendment to the Aarhus Regulation
On 6 October 2021, the European Union adopted an amendment to the Aarhus Regulation No. 1367/2006 to allow for better public scrutiny of EU acts affecting the environment. The amendments improve the possibilities to request that the EU institutions review such acts to better ensure environmental protection. The amendment entered into force on 28 October 2021, with the exception of Article 1, point (3)(a), which shall apply from 29 April 2023.
The Decision on conclusion of the Aarhus Convention by the Union was adopted on 17 February 2005 [Decision 2005/370/EC]. The Union is a Party to the Convention since May 2005.
In 2003 two Directives concerning the first and second "pillars" of the Aarhus Convention were adopted; they were to be implemented in the national law of the EU Member States by 14 February and 25 June 2005 respectively:
Provisions for public participation in environmental decision-making are furthermore to be found in a number of other environmental directives, such as Directive 2001/42/EC of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of certain plans and programmes on the environment (see also the "environmental assessment" homepage) and Directive 2000/60/EC of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (see also the "Water Framework Directive" homepage).
Both Directives 2003/4 and 2003/35 contain provisions on access to justice.
Regulation (EC) N° 1367/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Union institutions and bodies (OJ L 264, 25.9.2006, p.13) entered into force on 28 September 2006 and into application on 17 July 2007. It has subsequently been revised on 8 October 2021, as explained above.
The "Aarhus Regulation" covers not only the institutions, but also bodies, offices or agencies established by, or on the basis of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. They are required to adapt their internal procedures and practice to the provisions of the Regulation. The Aarhus Regulation addresses the "three pillars" of the Aarhus Convention - access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters - where those are of relevance to EU institutions and bodies and lays down related requirements.
Regarding access to environmental information, the Aarhus Regulation extends Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents to all Union institutions and bodies. The Aarhus Regulation furthermore requires those institutions and bodies to provide for public participation in the preparation, modification or review of "plans and programmes relating to the environment". The Aarhus Regulation also enables environmental NGOs and other members of the public meeting certain criteria to request an internal review of acts adopted, or omissions, by Union institutions and bodies, which may contravene EU environmental law.
As regards the publication and dissemination of reports and information on the state of the environment, the EU follows an ambitious approach with various sources of information, that are published and updated more often than the 4 year intervals mentioned in Article 4(4) of the Aarhus Regulation:
The European Environment Agency provides the EU and the Member States with objective, reliable and comparable information at European level enabling them to take the requisite measures to protect the environment, to assess the results of such measures and to ensure that the public is properly informed about the state of the environment, see https://forum.eionet.europa.eu/nrc-state-environment/seris, https://www.eea.europa.eu/countries-and-regions/, https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/uwwtd
INSPIRE geoportal, web data portals and other sources of information: https://inspire-geoportal.ec.europa.eu/ , ENV Portal, https://natura2000.eea.europa.eu/, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/gisco/overview
Commission Notice on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters
The European Commission adopted a Notice on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on the 28 of April 2017. The notice is a guidance document that clarifies how individuals and their associations can challenge decisions, acts and omissions by public authorities related to EU environmental law before national courts.
The notice is based on decisions of the Court of Justice on how national courts should address questions of access to justice related to EU environmental legislation. The scope is limited to access to justice in relation to decisions, acts and omissions by public authorities of the Member States. It does not address environmental litigation between private parties. Nor does it concern the judicial review of acts of the EU institutions.
Case-law on access to justice in environmental matters:
Citizen’s Guide to Access to Justice in Environmental Matters: This Citizen’s Guide provides a summary of the main findings of the Notice.