EU: Environmental groups welcome new proposals on access to documents and justice and public participation but oppose attempts to vet which groups will have these rights

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The European Commission has put forward three proposals on the environment: 1) on access to documents (COM 622) and 2) on access to justice (COM 624): Full-text of proposals: Access (pdf) Justice (pdf) and 3) a proposed Council Decision "on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice regarding environmental matters": Council Decision on implementation (pdf) of the Aarhus Convention.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents 134 organisations from 25 countries, has welcomed the proposals but strongly objects to the introduction of the concept of a "qualified entity" which is not in the underlying Aarhus Convention signed in 1998. This new proposal sets "severe" criteria to limit which NGOs, voluntary or community groups will be recognised and therefore have rights under the proposals. The EEB says:

"These could operate to exclude new groups or ad hoc coalitions which form to respond to a particular problem or groups with a non-environmental purpose, such as neighbourhood organisations"

Press release from the European Environmental Bureau: Press release (link)

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"It is excellent that people are to have access to documents, access to justice and participation in environmental decision-making, this is due to the work of the EEB and civil society.

The EEB is quite right to oppose any attempt by the EU institutions to define who is and who is not an acceptable group and therefore entitled to use these new rights. It seems the Commission is trying to restrict recognition to what Sir John Kerr (the Secretary to the IGC Convention) has called the "noddy lobby" in Brussels.

Rights on environmental issues are absolutely essential but so too are the rights of migrants and suspects - when are the EU going to produce parallel proposals on civil liberties for the people of Europe?

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