24 March 2021

On 24 March 2021, the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues e.V. – UfU – and the University of Coimbra organised the fourth digital Aarhus Workshop to discuss public participation and access to justice at European Union level. While UfU hosted and moderated the fourth Aarhus Workshop, Ms. Dr. Alexandra Aragão, who is a reknown Portuguese Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra, teaching environmental law, European law, risk governance and food security law, enriched the event with her well-founded and substantial presentations and contributions.

More than 20 Aarhus-interested participants from environmental associations, foundations, universities, governmental organisations as well as legal professionals took part in the fourth digital Aarhus Workshop. Most participants came from Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, those three countries, who are together holding the EU Trio Council Presidency in 2020 and 2021. On 1 January 2021, Portugal took over the EU Council Presidency from Germany and it will soon be handed over to Slovenia.

At the beginning of the Workshop, Dr. Catarina Grilo, Director of Conservation & Policy at ANP in association with WWF Portugal, delivered some insights on the Portuguese Presidency of the Council. After Catarina’s sharp observations on Portugal’s achievements in strengthening European environmental law and environmental democracy, Sebastian Bechtel, LLM, environmental democracy lawyer at ClientEarth Brussels, provided a captivating presentation on the new developments around the Amendment of the European Aarhus Regulation. The short presentation on access to justice included the advice of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in ACCC/M/2017/3 of 12 February 2021 and the findings of the Committee in ACCC/C/2015/128 (European Union) of 17 March 2021. He talked about the current legislative procedure and how environmental NGOs and other stakeholder participate in it.

After a short break the main focus of the Workshop laid on two questions: “How can citizens & NGOs participate in European environmental decision-making?” and “How can electronic public participation in European environmental decision-making be strengthened?” First, Prof Dr. Alexandra Aragão gave an overview of the multifaceted public participation opportunities in Europe, e.g. the Eurobarometer, public consultations, legislative initiatives or citizen science. After the systematic presentation of central reactive and pro active participation options for European citizens and environmental NGOs by Ms. Aragão, a Panel discussion on online public consultations, who are conducted by the European Commission, followed. Part of the multi-stakeholder panel discussion were a legal scholar, two environmental NGO experts and one participation expert respectively:

  • Prof. Dr. Maria Alexandra de Sousa Aragão,
  • Rebecca Humphries, Senior Public Affairs Officer at WWF European Policy Office (EPO)
  • Dr. Raphael Weyland, Head of Brussels Office at Nature & Bio-diversity Conservation Union (NABU) in association with BirdLife Europe, as well as
  • Anna Renkamp, Senior Project Manager Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The main arguments of all panellists during the fruitful discussions are captured in the Presentation to our fourth Aarhus Workshop

After the panel discussion some time was left to discuss the pressing question where and how citizens and NGO representatives could complain if they could not participate effectively online.

Due to the limited time available to discuss the online public consultations conducted by the European Commission, UfU and the University of Coimbra agreed to prepare a discussion paper on strengthened E-participation in European environmental decision-making.

The next and final fifth Aarhus Workshop on 7. September 2021 will fall under the EU Council Presidency by Slovenia. It will be held shortly before the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention (MoP 7) from 18. to 21. October 2021. If you want to join the fifth Aarhus Workshop, please register here: https://www.ufu.de/en/5-aarhus-workshop/.

All five Aarhus Workshops are part of the project “European Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the Digital Age (EU-AarKo)” of the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues ­ UfU e.V. This project is financially supported by the German Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety within the framework of the sponsorship of environmental associations.

For more information about this project and its background, click here.

For any questions, please contact Kathleen Pauleweit: kathleen.pauleweit@ufu.de