January 13, 2015, Court of Justice Decision on Aarhus Convention Applicability
On January 13, 2015, the Court of Justice (Grand Chamber) of the European Union (EU) overturned a judgment of the General Court of the European Union (General Court) in Stichting Natuur en Milieu and Pesticide Action Network Europe v. Commission.
The case concerned the non-governmental organizations’ (NGO), the Plaintiffs, interest in having the European Commission review Regulation (EC) 149/2008 amending Regulation (EC) 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the European Council by establishing Annexes II, III, and IV setting maximum residue levels (MRL) for pesticides in or on certain products. In a June 14, 2012, decision, the General Court found that the European Commission was erroneous when it refused the NGOs’ request to review internally its regulation and found that the EU’s Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006 (setting forth how EU institutions would apply the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters) conflicted, in part, with Article 9(3) of the Convention in that it too narrowly limited the concept of an “administrative act” and the ability of the public to have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts by public authorities that contravene provisions of national law related to the environment. The European Commission and the European Council appealed the General Court’s decision, arguing in part that the Aarhus Regulation was not incompatible with the Aarhus Convention. In the January 13, 2015, decision, the Court of Justice agreed with the European Commission and the European Council, stating: “It follows from paragraph 47 of this judgment that Article 9(3) of the Aarhus Convention lacks the clarity and precision required for that provision to be properly relied on before the EU judicature for the purposes of assessing the legality of Article 10(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006.” This decision will have an impact on NGOs’ rights to seek review of EU environmental acts and, potentially, other pending cases brought by NGOs invoking rights under the Aarhus Regulations.