Public participation in environmental decision-making is to be strengthened after EU Ministers agreed to the principles of the Aarhus Convention. But they stopped short of allowing NGOs the right to drag member states to court.
The EU Council of Minister on 18 July gave its formal green light to a last-minute deal with the European Parliament on the Aarhus Convention, giving the public greater access to decisions on environmental matters.
In applying the new Regulation, EU institutions will from now on be required to ensure that “environmental information is progressively made available and disseminated to the public”. They should also “take into account the outcome of public participation when deciding on a plan or programme relating to the environment”. “Environmental information” to be disclosed under the new Regulation includes:
- Reports on the state of the environment (air, water, soil, etc.)
- Legislative measures, plans and programmes affecting these, including those under preparation
- Cost-benefit analyses and environmental impact studies
Some exceptions are foreseen allowing EU institutions to veto demands in cases where the information could threaten “commercial interests” such as confidentiality agreements regarding EU financial, monetary or economic policy. However, grounds for refusal are to be interpreted “in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest served by disclosure,” says the agreed text.