European Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the Digital Age (EU-AarKo)

To strengthen the participation of civil society in environmental matters, the Aarhus Convention was adopted in 1998. It is the first international treaty on the environment to set international minimum standards for access to environmental information for all people, participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. In addition to each European Member State, the European Union (EU) is itself a Party to the Convention. The Union must implement the Aarhus provisions into European Union law and must adapt rules of procedure for its own institutions and bodies. However, there are still various shortcomings in the legislative and practical implementation of the Aarhus Convention at EU level. In particular, access to European courts for environmentally concerned persons and environmental associations is not guaranteed. Digitisation also brings with it new challenges, for example in the implementation of information access claims. There is also an information deficit: many citizens and environmental associations know too little about their various opportunities to participate at EU level.

Therefore, the project focuses on the one hand on initiating civic dialogues and positioning processes regarding the implementation of the Aarhus Convention at the European level. On the other hand, it provides clear and tangible information and educational material in the areas of access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters at the European level.

From May 2020 onwards, UfU will conduct five (digital) rounds of discussions with members of the European civil society. The workshops provide an open space for the European civil society, experts and practitioners in environmental law to exchange their views and adopt a clear position on the lack of effective access to European courts, as attested by the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention in case ACCC/C/2008/32. In a participatory manner, we are developing a conclusive concept of how effective access to justice for civil society could in the future be provided at EU level.

About 20 Aarhus interested participants from environmental associations, the legal profession and specialised lawyers took part in the first digital workshop discussion. Sebastian Bechtel, environmental democracy lawyer for ClientEarth Brussels, introduced the event with two detailed keynote speeches on the status of the compliance procedure (ACCC/C/2008/32) and the reaction of the European Union. Two informative contributions by Prof. Dr. Gerd Winter, Forschungsstelle für Europäisches Umweltrecht (FEU), and Raphael Weyland, NABU Brussels, were followed by a professional discussion on the Commission’s roadmap in an open and lively atmosphere.

The presentation in German of the first digital workshop discussion can be found here.

Moreover, various digital brochures will be produced which explain in a comprehensible way how citizens and environmental associations can promote environmental protection at EU level. How does European environmental policy work? How can EU citizens gain their rights to environmental information or make complaints to the institutions and bodies of the European Union? How can individuals and environmental organisations bring actions before the courts of the European Union? In addition to the brochures, the project will produce short explanatory films on these and other questions.

The project is funded by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) as part of its support for civil associations.