Setback for NGOs in EU access to justice case

Court advisor recommends "no legal standing" for citizens or NGOs over EU decision making

A groundbreaking legal case to determine the right of EU citizens and environmental groups to challenge decisions made by EU institutions looks set to conclude that they do not.

The European Court of Justice's legal advisor (Advocate General) recommended on Tuesday that Greenpeace International, two local environmental groups and 16 citizens did not have legal standing to challenge a European Commission decision to grant EU funds to two Spanish power stations before completing an environmental impact assessment.

Greenpeace International said today that it was disappointed by the recommendation, but that it continued to hope for a favourable ruling from the full court. Spokesperson Louise Gale told ENDS Daily today that the reasoning behind the Advocate General's opinion gave some grounds for optimism. She said: "We are encouraged that the court does seem prepared to take a fresh look at this whole area".

In particular, the group is pleased that the Advocate General, in reaching his decision, appears not to have relied upon the narrow judgement of a lower court when it considered the case in 1995. That court stated that in order to have legal standing to challenge a decision, citizens and NGOs needed to prove that it was "of direct and individual concern to them". According to Greenpeace, this would require them to show that a decision affected their economic interests.

The European Commission and the Spanish government have argued that neither the environmental groups nor the affected citizens have the right to challenge their decision. Greenpeace has accused the Commission of hypocrisy in trying to block access to justice in this case while at the same time it is trying to encourage national courts to increase access for NGOs and citizens. Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard has made something of a personal crusade out of the issue.

The view is echoed by European law experts. Richard Macrory, Professor of Environmental Law at Imperial College, London told ENDS Daily today: "At a time when many national legal systems are liberalising their approach to questions of standing and judicial review, the European community itself reflects what is now an outdated approach. For a system which prides itself on being based on the rule of law, this is indeed ironic."

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031.

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