A breakthrough in access to justice!
NGOs must have legal standing in water permitting procedures, including the right to bring challenges to court. In a preliminary ruling procedure stemming from a case in Austria, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled that Article 9, paragraph 3 of the Aarhus Convention in conjunction with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights requires that recognized NGOs must be able to legally challenge decisions which might violate Article 4 of the Water Framework Directive. What is more, NGOs must have party standing in the administrative permitting procedures themselves where the national procedural law only allows those with party standings to bring legal challenges. Finally, procedural rules which result in a loss of party status may not be applied where it seems the NGO could not obtain party status in the first place.
This decision has huge implications for Austria which, despite having ratified the Aarhus Convention as early as 2005, has refused access to justice to NGOs in all cases but for EIA and selected industrial (IED) procedures. However, the decision is of vital importance throughout the EU – it builds upon the Court’s decision regarding nature protection procedures in C-243/15 and goes quite some way in ensuring that finally, NGOs have a voice in environmental matters.
Contact: Gregor Schamschula, OEKOBUERO (Justice and Environment Austria): firstname.lastname@example.org