Courtroom of Justice ensures standing for people to problem breaches of the Water Framework Directive


Case C-535/18 IL and others v Land Nordrhein-Westfalen ECLI:EU:C:2020:391

Earlier this 12 months we analysed the opinion of Advocate Common Hogan on this case regarding, amongst different issues, standing for people beneath Article 11 of the Environmental Affect Evaluation (EIA) Directive and the Water Framework Directive (WFD). In Might, the Courtroom of Justice handed down its judgment, largely confirming the Advocate Common’s conclusions. Most notably, the Courtroom confirmed that people who’re “instantly involved ” by a choice that breaches of Article Four of the WFD by advantage of the truth that they “legitimately use” the physique of water in query, should have standing to problem that call. The Courtroom additionally supplied helpful clarifications on standing for people beneath Article 11 of the EIA Directive, notably in Member States that make standing conditional on the impairment of a proper, and the interplay between the assessments of water high quality required beneath the WDF and the EIA process.

Background

Quite a few people in Germany sought to problem a choice to authorise the development of a brand new motorway. The choice allowed the developer to discharge rainwater from the street’s floor into three our bodies of floor water or into groundwater and contained numerous provisions to make sure the standard of the water our bodies involved. Nevertheless, the authorisation was granted within the absence of a documented evaluation to make sure that the water safety necessities in Article Four of the WFD had been met. Such an evaluation was solely supplied in the course of the judicial proceedings that adopted. Because of this, a bunch of people who had taken half within the public participation procedures, together with house owners of personal wells who had been involved that their water provide could be contaminated, tried to problem the allow earlier than the Federal Administrative Courtroom.

The German courtroom referred a number of inquiries to the CJEU relating to the people’ rights to problem the authorisation beneath the EIA Directive and the Water Framework Directive, in addition to the interplay between the obligations contained in these directives. The German courtroom additionally referred questions on the substantive obligations in Article 4(1)(b)(1) WFD, relating to the query of what constitutes deterioration of a physique of groundwater, which aren’t analysed right here.

Authorized standing for people beneath Article 11 of the EIA Directive

The German Courtroom requested whether or not Article 11(1)(b) EIA Directive affords Member States the discretion to permit people to problem an authorisation on the bottom of a procedural defect provided that the defect disadvantaged these particular people of their proper to take part within the decision-making course of granted by Article 6 EIA Directive.

The Courtroom answered this query within the constructive, based mostly on the large margin of discretion that Article 11(1)(b) affords to Member States in deciding which people have standing to problem selections falling beneath the scope of the EIA Directive. Specifically, in Member States that require the impairment of a person’s rights, the CJEU has held that it’s potential to refuse standing if it may be established that the procedural defect didn’t have an effect on the result of the choice. It is because, in these circumstances, the person’s rights can’t be thought of to have been impaired. It follows from this that Member States have discretion to permit people to problem a choice on the grounds of a procedural defect provided that the defect disadvantaged them of their proper to take part within the decision-making.

The Courtroom confirmed that the general public isn’t ready to take part meaningfully within the decision-making course of if it has not been given entry to the knowledge essential to assess the impression of the undertaking on the water our bodies involved. This assertion doesn’t go so far as the Advocate Common, who opined that every of the procedural ensures laid down in Article 6 EIA Directive have to be thought of as substantive particular person rights. However, it’s a robust indication that the failings within the public participation process described above disadvantaged the candidates of their proper to take part within the decision-making course of.

Interplay with the Water Framework Directive

Subsequent, the German courtroom requested whether or not the evaluation of the impression of the undertaking on the water our bodies involved required by Article Four WFD should happen previous to authorisation and, in that case, whether or not the general public participation obligations contained in Article 6 of the EIA Directive require that evaluation to be made accessible to the general public in the course of the authorisation process.

The Courtroom first discovered that the obligations in relation to each floor water in Article 4(1)(a) and groundwater in Article 4(1)(b) have binding results. Particularly, earlier than an authorisation is issued, the competent authority should verify whether or not the undertaking could trigger damaging results that may be opposite to the obligations to forestall deterioration and enhance the situation of the water our bodies involved. This essentially implies that the evaluation have to be carried out previous to authorisation.

Relating to the general public participation necessities within the EIA process, the Courtroom confirmed that the knowledge to be made accessible to the general public should embody the information essential to assess the possible impression of the undertaking on the water our bodies involved with regard to the factors and obligations contained in Article Four WFD. Specifically, the information supplied should present whether or not the undertaking is more likely to end result within the deterioration of a physique of water. This entails that an incomplete file or information distributed in numerous completely different paperwork wouldn’t permit the general public involved to take part meaningfully within the decision-making course of, and could be in breach of Article 6(3) of the EIA Directive. As well as, the non-technical abstract of the evaluation that builders are required to supply to the competent authority beneath Article 5 of the EIA Directive have to be made accessible to the general public. The Courtroom said that it was for the referring courtroom to confirm whether or not the file to which the general public had entry earlier than the authorisation of the undertaking fulfilled the entire necessities arising from Article 6(3) EIA Directive.

Entry to justice to implement Article Four of the WFD

The fourth query associated as to if the candidates had been entitled to problem the authorisation on the grounds that it breached the ban on the deterioration of water high quality – and the requirement for the advance in water high quality – in Article Four WFD.
The Courtroom recalled its earlier case legislation to the impact that it might be opposite to Article 288 TFEU relating to the binding nature of directives, to preclude people from counting on the obligations they impose earlier than nationwide courts (see, for instance, instances C-664/15 Shield and the more moderen case of C-197/18 Wasserleitungsverband Nördliches Burgenland and Others). In these instances, the Courtroom held that pure or authorized individuals “instantly involved” by a breach of the provisions of a directive referring to the setting can implement them earlier than nationwide courts.

As to the query of whether or not the people on this case had been “instantly involved” by the WDF provisions referring to groundwater, the Courtroom said one of many aims of the WDF, together with Article Four thereof, is to guard groundwater as a useful resource for reliable human use. Due to this fact, as a result of violations of the obligations in Article Four are liable to have an effect on such use, the people with a proper to make use of the physique of groundwater in query are instantly involved by a breach of these obligations.

Remark

This judgment confirms the Courtroom’s expansive strategy to the idea of people which are “instantly involved” by a selected provision of a directive (on this case Article Four of the WFD). The Courtroom explicitly adopted its reasoning in case C-197/18 Wasserleitungsverband Nördliches Burgenland and Others (analysed right here), which afforded standing to people who “legitimately use” a component affected by the breach in query. That is more likely to have far-reaching penalties for numerous nationwide authorized programs, notably those who have historically employed the “impairment of a proper” strategy to standing.

Relating to standing beneath Article 11 EIA Directive, the wording of that article leaves clear discretion to Member States on the subject of defining the idea of impairment of a proper. However, the Courtroom supplies a transparent indication that standing have to be afforded to people to problem authorisations when the knowledge rights which are so elementary to public participation are breached.

The Courtroom additionally made it clear that the substantive environmental obligations contained within the WFD (and presumably different EU environmental legal guidelines) have to be taken into consideration by builders in the course of the EIA course of (i.e. previous to authorisation) and adequately documented within the public participation section. This interplay between the EIA course of, notably the general public participation process, and substantive environmental obligations is essential to bettering the standard of public decision-making and stopping environmental deterioration within the first place.

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