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European court rules environmental groups can't legally oppose EU institutions; only corporations get a say

European Union

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(NaturalNews) In a recent decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that environmental non-governmental organizations and other NGOs possess no right to file actions with the court, meaning they cannot legally oppose any European Union institution -- though profiteering global corporations have had, and will continue to have, access to court.

As noted in a press release from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), the ruling has serious implications in that groups opposed to GMO crops, for example, now appear to have been shut out of the judicial process.

PAN further noted that the high court's ruling was in contrast with a 2012 ruling by the General Court of Luxembourg, which sided with NGOs and said that they should be granted court access. Also, in May 2014, the Court of Justice's Advocate-General, Niilo Jaaskinen, released a finding to the court that upheld the right for NGO access.

As PAN's press release stated:

NGO's therefore cannot challenge Commission decisions such the decision to massively relax the food standards for pesticide residues as PAN Europe did in 2008, as well as challenge the derogation that Commission granted to the Netherlands for meeting air pollution standards as Friends of the Earth-NL did.

"A sorry step backward"

The organization described the ruling as "a sad day for democracy in Europe," because corporations retain court access and have used that advantage to litigate against efforts to ban or contain pesticide use.

The ruling means that NGOs won't be allowed to address their concerns in courts of law in the European Union to "protect people and the environment against undermining EU rules, watering down of agreed standards and loopholes and backdoors ignoring democratically agreed regulations."

The ruling was also panned by the European Environmental Bureau, which said it was "a sorry step backwards for environmental democracy, public accountability and access to justice with respect to the EU institutions at a time when the EU needs to be proving its democratic credentials."

In the cases that were brought into question, the commission denied NGOs the right to request "for internal review" decisions that were taken by the commission on grounds that the acts being challenged could not be considered as acts of "individual scope."

Some NGO groups invoked the Aarhus Convention and corresponding EU Aarhus Regulation to appeal the commission's decisions before the European General Court, which summarily ruled in favor of the NGOs.

"The Commission, Parliament and Council then appealed the judgements of the General Court before the ECJ, which [then] upheld the appeals and set aside the judgments of the General Court," the EEB said.

Simply avoiding the legal issue at stake

The Aarhus Convention was established to provide individuals and environmental groups wide access to justice on environmental matters, the group added, noting that the EU is a party to the convention.

The group stated further:

The EU, which is party to the Aarhus Convention, attempted to apply the provisions of the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions by adopting the so-called Aarhus Regulation in 2006. However, the Regulation offers a very limited scope to those wishing to take advantage of the provisions in the Convention, namely by limiting the access to an internal review procedure only where the acts being challenged were "measures of individual scope". As a result, the Aarhus Regulation is currently only applicable to a very few decisions adopted in environmental matters.

"Today's ECJ judgements raise serious questions about what it means for the EU to be a party to an international treaty," said Jeremy Wates, the EEB's secretary general. "We remain of the view that the relevant provision of the Aarhus Convention is sufficiently precise to rule out any limitation of acts that may be challenged to 'measures of individual scope', and that the EU's Aarhus Regulation is not in compliance with the Aarhus Convention."

"These judgments simply avoid the legal issue that was at stake, that is the non-compatibility of the Aarhus Regulation with the Aarhus Convention with regard to access to justice rights," added Anais Berthier of the ClientEarth EU Aarhus Centre.




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