Currently pending before the CJEU is a fundamental issue regarding the assessment of environmental effects of major projects: Should their impacts only be reassessed when construction takes place? Or should there also be an environmental impact assessment (‘EIA’) if an aging project is allowed to continue operation many years beyond its originally projected lifetime, without any physical alterations?
Case C-411/17 requires the Court to address its own interpretation of the EIA Directive in an earlier judgement which arguably contradicts the EU’s obligations under international law. In her Opinion published in November last year, AG Kokott has therefore urged the Court to reverse its case law.
EIA is an essential procedure to prevent environmental impacts at source and to allow for public participation in decision-making. Since many major industrial facilities, such as energy infrastructure, operate over many years, the question as to when an EIA obligation arises for existing facilities is of crucial importance. Next to posing intricate legal questions concerning the EU legal order, the case is therefore of great practical relevance to environmental protection in Europe.
This commentary presents the relevant international and EU law developments leading up to this case, discusses AG Kokott’s Opinion and reflects upon the wider implications of Case C-411/17 for the development of EU environmental law and its interaction with the international legal order. Continue reading →
As for now, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 October 2019, unless a withdrawal agreement is ratified before this date. The UK aims to sign “continuity” agreements with third countries to replace existing agreements with the EU before Brexit to avoid disruptions in trade flows. With smaller market leverage and under political pressure to deliver results, there would be an incentive for the UK to adopt an approach that is more lenient than the EU’s in its negotiations of post-Brexit trade agreements. There have been reports of requests from non-EU trade partners for the UK to lower its human rights standards and to soften its food standards once it is out of the EU. However, there are indications that the UK will stick to a normative approach comparable to the EU’s when it comes to development cooperation and environmental standards, as can be seen in the UK’s first continuity agreement with a group of Eastern and Southern African States,. In this post, we argue that despite the pressures, the UK does not diverge from the normative approach that the EU takes in its post-Brexit trade agreements. Continue reading →
On 9 October 2018, the Civil Division of the The Hague Court of Appeal in the Netherlands has delivered its judgment on the appeal of the ‘Urgenda case’ The Court imposed an order to act on the Dutch government to adjust its policy from 20% to achieve a 25% emission reduction by 2020, compared to 1990 levels (paras 51 and 75). The judgment confirmed the initial ruling in favour of Urgenda in 2015.[i] The consequences for Dutch climate, energy and environmental policy and potentially for climate mitigation efforts worldwide are potentially far-reaching, regardless of possible further appeals by the Dutch government. This ruling raises important questions with respect to the interpretation of Dutch and European Union law, their interrelationship, and possible transferability to other national jurisdictions. In this Commentary, we discuss these issues in turn, starting with a brief synthesis of the judgment.
In the period since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, Member States have more and more often and more and more passionately challenged the Union exercise of external relations powers conferred to it under the Lisbon Treaty. In the words of Advocate-General Kokott in her Opinion in the Antarctica cases legal actions are fought with ‘astonishing passion’ and ‘allegation[s are made] that the Commission wished to do everything possible to prevent international action by the Member States’, as well as that ‘the Council [was] compulsively looking for legal bases that always permit participation by the Member States’ (para 75).
On 20 November 2018, the Court of Justice ruled in the Antarctica cases on two actions of annulment brought by the Commission against Council decisions approving the submission, on behalf of the Union and its Member States, to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (‘the CCAMLR’) of a reflection paper and a common position on four proposals concerning the creation and study of marine protected areas. The Council was supported in its defence in the two cases by 9 and 10 Member States, respectively. The point of contention – as is the case in a growing body of post-Lisbon litigation – was not the substantive position but the question of on behalf of whom the paper and the positions at issue could be submitted: the Union alone or the Union together with its Member States. Continue reading →
In a Grand Chamber ruling of 4 September 2018, the European Court of Justice annulled two decisions of the Commission to refuse access to documents on impact assessment reports in environmental matters. The decision is an important precedent to ensure greater transparency of the EU institutions at the early stages of legislative action – arguably the key stage of influence – and therefore a resounding win for those arguing for greater participation and influence of citizens in the EU legislative process. The judgment’s explicit recognition of this key constitutional EU value of greater participation of its citizens in the EU decision-making process in an access to documents case is therefore without doubt the most notable aspect of the ruling. It marks a major step forward for the utility for citizens of Regulation 1049/2001, especially considering the extensive restrictive case-law (in terms of transparency) in relation to other powers of the Commission under the Treaties. For transparency lawyers specifically, the finding of the ECJ that there is no general presumption of confidentiality to documents drafted in the context of a legislative initiative is significant, as is the role of the Aarhus Regulation in access to documents cases. Continue reading →
Green Trade and Fair Trade in and with the EU: Process-based Measures within the EU Legal Order, by Laurens Ankersmit (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017, ISBN 9781107191228); 294 pp.; £85.00
This monograph examines the position of ‘process-based measures’ within the EU legal order. PBMs (also known as ‘process and production method’ rules) are characterised as public and private initiatives that, in the context of international trade, seek to address environmental and social concerns that arise externally; in other words, beyond the territory of the regulating state. Examples include, bans on the importation and sale of cosmetics tested on animals; national and regional product labelling schemes; and private initiatives such as Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council certification programme. Continue reading →
Recently, the ECJ has found Germany in breach of its obligations under the Habitats Directive for authorising the operation of a coal-fired power plant near Hamburg, Germany without an appropriate environmental impact assessment. The case is the latest addition to a series of legal battles surrounding the environmental impact of the plant. On the one hand, the negative environmental impact, in particular for fish species in the Elbe river, has led to litigation opposing the authorisation of the plant, including these infringement proceedings before the ECJ. On the other, Swedish power company Vattenfall has opposed the environmental conditions attached to its water use permit before a national court and before an ISDS tribunal which in its view would make the project ‘uneconomical’. This post will discuss the general legal background of the case, the ECJ judgment, and comment on the wider implications of these legal battles for the relationship between investment law and EU law. Continue reading →
Opinion 2/15 might keep legal scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers busy for the foreseeable future. Many aspects of the ruling deserve comment and further discussion (see already for starters the blogposts here, here, here, here, here, and here) and I would like to follow up my previous post with some comments on an intriguing paragraph of the Opinion: paragraph 161 on the possible suspension of the agreement for a breach of one of its ‘sustainable development’ provisions. The ECJ’s statements here touch upon a long-standing debate whether labour and environmental provisions in trade and investment agreements should be enforceable. The ECJ found that Parties could indeed (partially) suspend or even terminate the agreement for breaches of such provisions. Practicalities aside, this finding is certainly a positive step from a social and environmental point of view. Continue reading →
Arguably one of the most important international environmental agreements of our days, the Aarhus Convention (AC), obliges its contracting parties to provide access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Based on a communication by the NGO ClientEarth, the Compliance Committee – the compliance mechanism put in place under the AC – handed down an important decision (called ‘findings and recommendations’ in the Aarhus terminology) with regard to the European Union on 17 March 2017. The present post aims to highlight the most important findings of the Committee, which – in no uncertain terms – criticized a number of features of current EU law as a failure to implement the AC. Continue reading →
In a significant win for access to justice in environmental matters, the Court’s Grand Chamber found that Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to an effective remedy), read together with the Aarhus Convention, precluded the application of national procedural rules allowing for swift decision-making at the expense of rights granted to environmental NGOs. The case’s procedural history is very complex (the Advocate General referred to it as either Kafkaesque or tilting windmills like Don Quixote, depending on your point of view), so after only a brief factual discussion I will focus on the two major constitutional issues that the Court had to deal with:
The UK government has announced that it will pursue a “bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement” with the EU. The EU, no stranger to negotiating such agreements, typically includes in its FTAs a chapter dedicated to sustainable development. From the start, it should be clear that these chapters come nowhere near the protection offered by current EU environmental legislation. That said, these chapters may present some opportunities. This contribution seeks to explain the EU’s approach to environmental protection in its FTAs and identifies four key options for a potential future environmental chapter in a UK-EU FTA. Continue reading →
What is the scope of the marketing ban on cosmetics containing ingredients that were tested on animals? Does it include cosmetics that were tested on animals because of the requirements of a third country’s laws? This was the question the CJEU addressed in its decision in the European Federation for Cosmetic Ingredients case. The Court’s 21 September 2016 judgment goes some way toward resolving the lack of clarity of the animal testing provisions of the Cosmetics Regulation (which Advocate General Bobek’s Opinion referred to as ‘not well drafted’ and ‘not a paragon of clarity’ (AG’s Opinion paras 74 & 24)). But it also continues a recent line of cases in which the Court approves of EU rules with important extraterritorial effects. Continue reading →
Challenging EU rules on the basis of EU agreements is very difficult. Challenging EU rules on the basis of the Aarhus Convention is pretty much impossible. In ClientEarth v Commission the Court reasoned once again that the Aarhus Convention could not be relied upon to invalidate EU secondary legislation. In this case, the Court found that ClientEarth could not rely on the Aarhus Convention to challenge the Public Access to Documents Regulation (Regulation 1049/2001) in order to obtain commissioned studies on compliance by Member States with EU environmental law in the context of infringement procedures. One of the arguments put forward by the Court was that the Aarhus Convention could not be relied upon because it ‘was manifestly designed with the national legal orders in mind’. This is an extraordinary statement, since the EU is party to the Convention and thus bound by it. It was no doubt inspired by the concern to protect the infringement procedure contained in article 258 TFEU, raising a number of questions on the relationship between EU primary, secondary and international law. Continue reading →