The Aarhus Convention was adopted to make sure that authorities could be held accountable when they deny citizens the opportunity to receive information and participate in the decision-making process in matters related to the environment.
Along with the individual Member States, EU bodies and institutions are Party to the Convention, and the Aarhus Regulation is the legislative measure that specifically sets out EU obligations under the agreement. This Regulation was found by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee to be not fully compliant with the Convention in 2008. In its December 2019 European Green Deal Communication the European Commission pledged to revise the Regulation in light of those findings; it also committed to “taking action” to improve citizen and NGO access to justice at the Member State and EU level.
Drafted by Christiana Mauro and Jeremy Wates, NTW’s contribution to the Roadmap public consultation welcomes the initiative, recommending that special attention be paid to the frequent misapplication of the exceptions to the freedom of information obligations of EU institutions, which the European Ombudsman has repeatedly deemed problematic, and stressing that amendments to the Regulation be made unequivocally clear about the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty to the scope of review mechanisms.
While further consultation is not envisioned in the Roadmap, the submission recommends that civil society be given the opportunity to comment on the Commission’s final amendment proposals, and hopes that the amendment process will be used to revise other problematic aspects of the Regulation, including those relating to access to information.
The outcome of the public consultation will be presented to the European Council and European Parliament, and the Commission is expected to present its amendment proposals by September 30, 2020. More information about the initiative can be found here.