The Århus Convention has been signed by the Community and by the Member States. At the time of writing (early August 2004), 15 of the 25 Member States have ratified the Convention. One of the implications of the Convention is that greater attention must now be devoted to putting in place accessible and effective remedies to support environmental rights at Community and Member State level. The Commission is currently working on bringing EC environmental law into line with Århus requirements in advance of ratification of the Convention by the Community.8 Considerable progress has been made in this direction to date.
Legislation Note: Implementation of the Århus Convention through Community environmental law
This brief commentary aims to provide an overview of European Community (EC) legislative measures designed to give effect to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Århus Convention).1 The Convention, which dates from 1998, is a ground-breaking instrument designed to advance information and participation rights in the environmental field.2 A striking feature of the Convention is its strong commitment to ‘access to justice’. The Convention acknowledges that information and participation rights risk being undermined in practice in the absence of effective and accessible review mechanisms. This focus on access to justice is particularly welcome in the EC law context where problems with the enforcement of environmental law, particularly at national level, are well documented. For example, a review published by the EC Commission in June 2003 confirmed that correct implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive3 at local level remains problematic.4 This is a worrying indictment given that EIA is acknowledged as being one of the cornerstones of Community environment policy and the EIA Directive has been in place for a period of almost 20 years. One important issue highlighted in the review was the perceived inadequacy of national judicial review procedures in the case of alleged breach of the EIA Directive by the competent authorities.5 An earlier review of the operation of Directive 90/313/EEC concerning access to information on the environment held by public authorities6 had raised similar concerns over the adequacy of review procedures where access to information is delayed or denied.7