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Protection Against Acts Harmful to Human Health and the Environment Adopted by the EU Institutions

  • Nicolas de Sadeleer and Charles Poncelet


This chapter examines whether the EU has duly implemented its obligations regarding access to justice in environmental matters. On the one hand, EU courts remain hardly accessible to individuals seeking to challenge acts harmful to human health and the environment adopted by the EU institutions. In this regard, the Lisbon amendment of the standing requirements for non-privileged applicants has not radically changed the situation. In the light of recent decisions of the General Court, it appears that the latter has as yet resorted to a restrictive interpretation of the new prerequisites laid down in Article 263(4) TFEU. On the other hand, the internal review mechanism of EU environmental measures as provided for under secondary law does not live up to its objective of enhancing legal protection. In addition to the limited scope thereof, the EU institutions have shown much reluctance to be challenged. Therefore, it may be concluded that EU citizens are not provided with effective remedies. This represents a significant issue given the essential enforcement deficit of environment law. Arguably the EU legal system scarcely complies with the letter and the spirit of the Århus Convention with respect to access to justice.



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1 Convention on Access to Information, Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (adopted 25 June 1998, entered into force 30 October 2001) 2161 UNTS 447.

2 Jans, JHH and Vedder, HHB, European Environmental Law, 4th edn (Groningen, Europa Law Publishing, 2012) 70 .

3 Council Decision 2005/370, OJ 2005 L124/1.

4 Art 1 of the Århus Convention.

5 Århus Convention, arts 4–5.

6 Århus Convention, arts 6–8.

7 Århus Convention, art 9.

8 Regulation 1367/2006 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 community institutions and bodies [2006] OJ L264/13.

9 Krämer, L, ‘The Environmental Complaint in the EU’ (2009) 6 Journal of European Environmental and Planning Law 13, 25.

10 According to the Court of Justice, the Treaty establishes a complete system of legal remedies and procedures designed to ensure judicial review of the legality of acts of the institutions, and has entrusted such review to the Courts of the European Union. See Case C-50/00 P Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council [2002] ECR I-6677 [40].

11 See the leading case: Case C-321/95 P Greenpeace v Commission [1998] ECR I-165. Cf. also: Case T-219/95 R Danielsson et al v Commission [1995] ECRI II-03051; Case T-94/04 European Environmental Bureau (EEB) et al v Commission [2005] ECR II-04919; C-362/06 P Sahlstedt & al v Commission [2006] ECR I-2903. See on this: Krämer, L, ‘Environmental Justice in the European Court of Justice’ in Ebesson, J and Okowa, P (eds), Environmental Law and Justice in Context (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009) 208 ; Sadeleer, N de, Commentaire Mégret Environnement et marché intérieur (Brussels, ULB, 2009) 190–96.

12 Case T-177/01 Jégo Quéré [2002] ECR II-2365 [26].

13 Case 25/62 Plaumann v Commission [1963] ECR 95, para 107.

14 Greenpeace v Commission (n 11).

15 Case T-585/93 Greenpeace e.a. v Commission [1995] ECR II-2205 [7].

16 Ibid [29].

17 Case T-177/01 Jégo-Quéré & Cie SA v Commission [2002] ECR II-2365 [50]; see Tridimas, T and Poli, S, ‘Locus Standi of Individuals under Article 230(4): The Return of Euridice?’ in Arnull, A, Eeckhout, P, Tridimas, T (eds), Community and Change in EU Law. Essays in Honor of Sir Francis Jacobs (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008) 70 .

18 Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council (n 10) [44]. See for a critical analysis of this case: Craig, P and Búrca, G de, EU Law. Text, Cases and Materials, 5th edn (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 504 .

19 Opinion of Advocate General Jacobs delivered on 21 March 2002 prior to C-50/00P Unión de Pequeños Agricultores [2002] ECR I-6677, [59].

20 See for another case where regional entities and environmental associations disputed the validity of a regulation on the management of fishing areas and resources in the EU. Case C-444/08P Região autónoma dos Açores v Council [2009] ECR I-200. Cf. also: Case T-291/04 Enviro Tech Europe Ltd & al v Commission[2011] (nyr) [103]. The General Court’s jurisprudence is consonant with the settled case law of the Court of Justice, see for instance: Case T-83/92 Zunis Holdings S.A. v Commission [1993] ECR II-1169.

21 Case C-386/96P Société Louis Dreyfus & Cie v Commission [1998] ECR I-2309 [43].

22 Case C-362/06P Sahlstedt v Commission [2009] ECR I-2903.

23 Directive 92/43/EEC of the Council of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora [1992] OJ L7/206. Cf for further developments about this directive: N de Sadeleer ‘Habitats Conservation in EC Law: From Nature Sanctuaries to Ecological Networks’ (2005) Yearbook of European Environmental Law 215–52.

24 Art 4(2) Directive 92/43/EEC.

25 Sahlstedt (n 22).

26 Case T-150/05 Sahlstedt and Others v Commission [2006] ECR II-1853 [54].

27 In spite of the Opinion of AG Bot who felt that the applicants did satisfy the standing requirements: Opinion of AG Bot in Case C-362/06P Sahlstedt v Commission [2009] ECR I-2903 [68].

28 The ETS system was created under Directive 2003/87/EC of 13 October 2003 establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC, [2003] OJ L275/32. Cf for further developments about this directive: Poncelet, C, ‘The Emission Trading Scheme Directive: Analysis of Some Contentious Points’ (2011) 20 European Energy and Environmental Law Review 245–55.

29 Directive 2003/87/EC arts 9–11.

30 Case C-6/08P US Steel Košice v Commission [2008] ECR I-96.

31 Case C-127/07 Arcelor Atlantique and Lorraine and Others v Premier Ministre [2008] ECR I-9895. Cf for an in-depth analysis of the case law: Zeben, J van, ‘The European Emission Trading Scheme Case’ (2009) 18 Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 119–28.

32 Art 9(3) reads as follows:

In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

33 Case C-240/09 Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK v Ministerstvo životného prostredia Slovenskej republiky [2011] (nyr) [51].

34 The Charter is part of EU law according to Art 6(1) TEU.

35 Charter of Fundamantal Rights of the European Union, arts 52(3), 35 and 37. See Sadeleer, N de, ‘Enforcing EUCHR Principles and Fundamental Rights in Environmental Cases’ (2012) 81 Nordic Journal of International Law 39–74 .

36 Stec, S, Casey-Lefkowitz, S (eds), The Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide (United Nations. Economic Commission for Europe, 2000) 136 available at: Note: This guide, however, does not have any authoritative status. Cf: Case C-182/10 Solvay & al v Région Wallonne [2012] (nyr) [28].

37 Compliance Committee, Aarhus Convention, 14 June 2005, Compliance by Belgium, ACCC/C/2005/11.

38 Andrusevych, A, Alge, T, Clemens, C (eds), Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2004–2008) (Lviv, RACSE, 2008) 44 . This digest provides a review of the Committee case law. See also Andrusevych, A, Alge, T, Clemens, C (eds), Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2008–2011) (Lviv, RACSE, 2011).

39 See for an analysis of the draft findings: Jendroska, J, ‘Recent Case-Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee’ (2011) 8 Journal for European Environmental and Planning Law 4, 375.

40 Compliance Committee, Aarhus Convention, ‘Draft findings and recommendations of the Compliance Committee with regard to communication ACCC/C/2008/32 concerning compliance by the European Union’, 14 March 2011, para 87. These findings are in draft at present.

41 Ibid [88].

42 Jans, and Vedder, , European Environmental Law (n 2) 241 .

43 This was suggested in the Opinion of Jacobs, AG in Unión de Pequeños Agricultores (n 10) [60].

44 Compliance Committee, ‘Draft findings’ (n 40) [86].

45 Opinion of Jacobs, AG in Unión de Pequeños Agricultores (n 10) [43].

46 Case C-432/05 Unibet (London) Ltd & Unibet (International) Ltd v Justitiekanslern [2007] ECR I-2271 [64].

47 Case 283/81 Cilfit [1982] ECR 341.

48 See Brobert, M and Fenger, N, Preliminary References to the European Court of Justice (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010) 47 .

49 By contrast, EU acts that have to be implemented by national authorities usually leave much discretion to the addressees. As a result, these acts do not directly affect the applicant’s legal position. Interested individuals are entitled to challenge the implementing measures before the national courts. See Lenaerts, K et al, Procedural Law of the EU (London, Thomson, Sweet & Maxwell, 2006) 251 .

50 This replaces the former formulation according to which individuals could challenge decisions, which although in the form of a regulation were of direct and individual concern.

51 K Lenaerts, ‘Le traité de Lisbonne et la protection juridictionnelle des particuliers en droit de l’Union’ (2009) Cahiers de droit européen 725–28.

52 Greenpeace (n 11).

53 Case T-177/01 Jégo Quéré [2002] ECR II-2365; Unibet (n 46) Cf A Van Waeyenberge and P Pecho, ‘L’arrêt Unibet et le Traité de Lisbonne: un pari sur l’avenir de la protection juridictionnelle effective’ (2008) Cahiers de droit européen 123–56.

54 ECtHR, Posti Rahko v Finland, 24 September 2002 [64].

55 Lenaerts, , ‘Le traité de Lisbonne’ (n 51) 728 .

56 CONV 734/03, p 20.

57 Cf for a criticism of this view: Dougan, M, ‘The Treaty of Lisbon 2007: Winning Minds, Not Hearts’ (2008) 45 Common Market Law Review 678 .

58 Chalmers, D, Davies, G and Monti, G, European Union Law (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010) 415 .

59 Unión de Pequeños Agricultores (n 18).

60 Lenaerts, , ‘Le traité de Lisbonne’ (n 51) 727 ; see also Balthasar, SLocus Standi Rules for Challenges to Regulatory Acts by Private Applicants: The New Article 263(4) TFEU’ (2010) 35 European Law Review 542 ; Dougan, ‘The Treaty of Lisbon 2007’ (n 57).

61 By way of illustration, the Belgian judicial Code (art 17), the Belgian coordinated laws on the Council of State and the law on the Constitutional Court require that the petitioner demonstrates an ‘interest’ that is interpreted more broadly than under the Plaumann case law. By the same token, the French Code of Civil Procedure (art 31) confers locus standi only on those persons allowed to bring or contest a claim or to defend a specific interest. Similarly, claimants’ petitions before the French administrative courts are determined according to their interest, irrespective of the condition of individuality.

62 With respect to the special legislative procedure, see, for instance, art 19(2) TFUE, art 113 TFUE, art 153(2) TFUE, art 192(2), b) TFUE.

63 Council Regulation (EC) No 1007/2009 on trade in seal products OJ [2009] L286, p 36.

64 Case T-18/10 Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami e.a. v Parliament and Council [2011] (nyr) [45].

65 Inuit (n 64) [50].

66 Inuit (n 64) [45].

67 Inuit (n 64) [51].

68 Inuit (n 64) [52].

69 Simon, D, ‘Case note under case T-18/10’ (2011) 11 Europe 14 .

70 Case T-213/02 SNF v Commission [2004] ECR II-3047.

71 Simon, , ‘Case note’ (n 69) 14 .

72 Inuit (n 64) [68]–[87].

73 Inuit (n 64) [93].

74 Case T-262/10 Microban International Ltd, Microban (Europe) Ltd v Commission [2011] (nyr) [21]. Cf also: Case T-381/11 Europäischer Wirtschaftsvervan der Eisen und Stahlindustrie ASBL v Commission [2012] (nyr) [42].

75 Indeed, the applicant was neither the addressee of the decision nor individually concerned within the meaning of the Plaumann test.

76 Council Regulation (EC) No 1783/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 June 1999 on the European Regional Development Fund [1999] OJ L213/1.

77 This is suggested in: Craig, and Búrca, de, EU Law (n 18) 509 .

78 Unión de Pequeños Agricultores (n 10).

79 Meerbeeck, J Van and Waeyenberge, A Van, ‘Les conditions de recevabilité des recours introduits par les particuliers: au cœur du dédale européen’ in Sadeleer, N de et al (eds), Les innovations du traité de Lisbonne. Incidences pour le praticien (Brussels, Bruylant, 2011) 184 .

80 Microban International Ltd, Microban (Europe) Ltd (n 74) [34].

81 Århus Regulation (n 8). See Wenneras, P, The Enforcement of EC Environmental Law (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007) 216–50; Jans, JH, ‘Did Baron von Munchhausen Ever Visit Århus?’ in Macrory, R (ed), Reflections on 30 Years of EU Environmental Law (Groningen, Europa Law Publishing, 2006) 477–84; Pallemaerts, M, Compliance by the EC with its Obligations on Access to Justice as a Party to the Århus Convention IEEP Report (London, Institute for European Environmental Policy, 2009) 45 ; Ureta, A Garcia, ‘Aspectos sobre el acceso a la justicia en el Convenio de Aarhus y su incidencia sobre el Derecho comunitario’ in IeZ, IVAP (Oñati, Europar Ikerten Taldea, 2005) 63–88 .

82 See 19th recital of the preamble.

83 Wenneras, , The Enforcement of EC Environmental Law (n 81) 228 .

84 Cf also Arts 12 and 13 of the Council and Parliament Directive 2004/35/EC on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage [2004] OJ L143/56. The Court of Justice has stressed on numerous occasions the important role played by NGOs: Case C-263/08 Djurgården-Lilla Värtans Miljöskyddsförening v Stockholms kommun genom dess marknämnd [2009] ECR I-9967, para 45; Case C-115/09 Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland v Bezirksregierung Arnsberg [2011] (nyr). See also the position of the European Court of Human Rights: ECtHR 24 February 2009, ASBL Erablière v Belgium.

85 Art 2(1) c).

86 Alemanno, A and Mahieu, S, ‘The European Food Safety Authority before European Courts’ (2008) 5 European Food & Feed Law Review 330 .

87 Art 2(1) c).

88 See the Commission Decision of 23 October 2008 where the Commission rejected a request concerning an infringement procedure following a possible violation of Union legisla tion with respect to a dam project in Portugal. (COD/2008/0013(COD) of 17 December 2008 (not published in the OJ).

89 Jans, , ‘Did Baron von Munchhausen Ever Visit Århus?’ (n 81) 480 .

90 See for a description of the wide-range of acts taken by the Commission which are excluded of the scope: Pallemaerts, Compliance by the EC (n 81) 22.

91 Case T-117/94 Rovigo [1994] ECR II-455, para 24.

92 Case C-16/88 Commission v Council [1989] ECR I-3457 [16].

93 Pallemaerts, , Compliance by the EC (n 81) 23 .

94 Harryvan, GJ and Jans, JH, ‘Internal Review of EU Environmental Measures’ (2010) 3 Review of European and Administrative Law 63 .

95 Council Regulation 43/2009/EC fixing for 2009 fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required, and for interim measures [2009] OJ L22/1.

96 Council 9507/09 of 07 May 2005 ‘Reply to the request for an internal review of Council Regulation (EC) No. 43/2009’ 4 (not published in the OJ).

97 Commission Decision COM (2009) 2560 of 7 April 2009, by which the Commission had authorised the Netherlands to defer to a later date for compliance with its obligations under Directive 2008/50/EC in respect of improvements to air quality (not published in the OJ).

98 Commission C(2009) 6121 of 29 July 2009 ‘Reply to the request for internal review of Commission Decision C(2009) 2560’ (not published in the OJ).

99 Case T-396/09 Vereniging Milieudefensie & al v Commission [2012] (nyr). See also the following decision delivered on the same day (similar reasoning and findings): Case T-338//08 Stichting Natuur en Milieu & al v Commission [2012] (nyr).

100 Vereniging Milieudefensie (n 99) [32].

101 Vereniging Milieudefensie (n 99) [65].

102 Vereniging Milieudefensie (n 99) [66].

103 At the time of writing this article, the authors were not aware of an appeal lodged against these judgments.

104 Case C-48/65 Leutticke [1966] ECR I-27 [27]; Case C-247/87 Star Fruit [1989] ECR I-291, [12]; Case T-126/95 Dumez v Commission [1995] ECR II-2863 [44].

105 Case C-142/95 Rovigo [1996] ECR I-6669 [32–34].

106 Cf Commission C(2009)3337 of 27 April 2009 Reply to the request for internal review of the Commission statement ad to Article 10 paragraph 3 of the EU ETS Directive (2008/0013(COD)) adopted by the European Parliament on 17 December 2008 (not published in the OJ).

107 Pallemaerts, , Compliance by the EC (n 81) 23 .

108 Case C-314/91 Weber v Parliament [1993] ECR I-1093 [10]; Case C-69/89 Nakajima v Council [1989] ECR I-2069 [49].

109 Art 295 TFEU.

110 Commission D (2007)23239 of 12 December 2009 Reply to request for internal review concerning the Commission’s decision of 12 September 2007 adopting the list of candidates for the appointment of the Executive Director of the European Chemicals Agency by the Management Board thereof (not published in the OJ).

111 de Sadeleer, Commentaire Mégret (n 11) 38–41.

112 Council and Parliament Directive 98/34/EC laying down laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations [1998] OJ L 204/37.

113 Eg Commission Decision 2012/160/EU concerning the national provisions notified by the German Federal Government maintaining the limit values for lead, barium, arsenic, antimony, mercury and nitrosamines and nitrosatable substances in toys beyond the entry into application of Directive 2009/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the safety of toys [2012] OJ L80/19.

114 Eg Council Directive (EEC) 85/337 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment [1985] OJ L175/40; Council Directive (EEC) 92/43/ EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora [1992] OJ L7/206; Parliament and Council Directive (EC) 2001/42 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment [2001] OJ L197/30.

115 Harryvan, and Jans, , ‘Internal Review’ (n 94) 55 .

116 Ibid 55. The requests lodged before the Commission can be found at:

117 For further details, see Harryvan, and Jans, , ‘Internal Review’ (n 94) 55–59 .

118 Århus Regulation (n 8) preamble, second recital.

119 Eg Case C-263/08 Djurgården-Lilla Värtans Miljöskyddsförening v Stockholms kommun genom dess marknämnd [2009] ECR I-9967 para. 45; Case C-115/09 Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland v Bezirksregierung Arnsberg [2011], nyr; Case C-240/09 Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK v Ministerstvo životného prostredia Slovenskej republiky [2011], nyr.

120 This discussion would fall outside the scope of this article. For further developments, the reader is referred to: Jans, and Vedder, , European Environmental Law (n 2) 228–37; de Sadeleer, Commentaire Mégret (n 11); Poncelet, CAccess to Justice in Environmental Matters: Does the European Union Comply with its Obligations?’ (2012) 24(2) Journal of Environmental Law 287–309 .


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