Lawyers slam draft EU rights charter

Association calls for strengthened environmental clause, calls current text "backwards step"

A European environmental lawyers association has attacked the EU charter of citizens' fundamental rights currently being negotiated by governments as a "backwards step" for the environment. The European Council on Environmental Law (Cede) said that current wording on environmental protection was nothing more than "a policy declaration without any accountability to individuals" and failed to keep up with the development of environmental law since the EU's 1992 Maastricht treaty.

EU heads of government agreed to create a charter of EU fundamental rights in June 1999. Its text is being negotiated by governments plus the European Commission and Parliament, which will hold further talks in Biarritz, France, on Friday, and expect to reach final agreement in December.

In its latest draft, the charter's article 37 specifies that: "A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principles of sustainable development". Cede is calling for this to be strengthened so as to guarantee EU citizens "an individual right to a clean environment or to environmental protection".

In a September communication on the draft charter, the European Commission singled out the right to environmental protection as an area which it had hoped would be expressed "more forcefully".

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