Posts Tagged Impact assessment
Access to information ironically is subject to a myriad of rules and regulations at the EU level: some of a general nature (particularly: Regulation 1049/2001), some lex specialis (such as Directive 2003/35 and Regulation 1367/2006), but with a complex relationship between lex generalis and lex specialis. Add to the mix in the environmental field, public international law in the form of the Aarhus Convention and, well, what you get is an awful lot of regulatory intransparency. Leonie and I have made an attempt succinctly to summarise same in Chapter 5 of our Handbook on EU environmental law.
In C‑57/16 P Client Earth v EC, the CJEU’s Grand Chamber set aside a General Court judgment which had earlier sided largely with the EC viz two requests of information: the first of those requests sought access to the impact assessment report drawn up by the Commission on the implementation of the ‘access to justice’ pillar of the Aarhus Convention, while the second sought access to the impact assessment carried out by the Commission on the revision of the EU legal framework on environmental inspections and surveillance at national and EU level. Both were refused on the ground for exception provided in Regulation 1049/2001, that ‘access to a document, drawn up by an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which relates to a matter where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.’
The Grand Chamber essentially held that access should be granted: core of its reasoning is at para 92: ‘Although the submission of a legislative proposal by the Commission is, at the impact assessment stage, uncertain, the disclosure of those documents is likely to increase the transparency and openness of the legislative process as a whole, in particular the preparatory steps of that process, and, thus, to enhance the democratic nature of the European Union by enabling its citizens to scrutinise that information and to attempt to influence that process. As is asserted, in essence, by Client Earth, such a disclosure, at a time when the Commission’s decision-making process is still ongoing, enables citizens to understand the options envisaged and the choices made by that institution and, thus, to be aware of the considerations underlying the legislative action of the European Union. In addition, that disclosure puts those citizens in a position effectively to make their views known regarding those choices before those choices have been definitively adopted, so far as both the Commission’s decision to submit a legislative proposal and the content of that proposal, on which the legislative action of the European Union depends, are concerned.‘
Essentially: a true transparent policy process requires citisens to be able to impact the flow of the water before it disappears under the bridge.
EC Institutions continue to fight rearguard actions against transparency, which subsequently have to be addressed by the likes of Client Earth. The CJEU could not be clearer in highlighting the patch access to EU policy should continue to follow.
(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law, first ed.2017, Chapter 5. (With Leonie Reins).
The CJEU (General Court) sided with Sweden in T-521/14, concerning the failure, by the Commission, to adopt measures concerning the specification of scientific criteria for the determination of endocrine-disrupting properties.
To improve the free movement of biocidal products in the EU, while ensuring a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment, the EU adopted Regulation 528/2012 concerning the making available on the market and use of biocidal products. It sets out the active substances which, in principle, cannot be approved. They include active substances which, on the basis of criteria to be established, are regarded as having endocrine-disrupting properties which may be harmful to humans, or which have been designated as having those properties. It also provides that, by 13 December 2013 at the latest, the Commission was to adopt the delegated acts as regards the specification of the scientific criteria for the determination of endocrine-disrupting properties.
The EC cited criticism following its presentation of draft scientific criteria, as well as the need to make the various possible solutions subject to an impact assessment. The CJEU first of all held that the Commission had a clear, precise and unconditional obligation to adopt delegated acts as regards the specification of the scientific criteria for the determination of the endocrine-disrupting properties and that that was to be done by 13 December 2013.
With respect to the impact assessment, the General Court finds that there is no provision of the regulation which requires such an impact analysis. What is more, even if the Commission ought to have carried out such an impact analysis, that does not in any way exonerate it, in the absence of provisions to that effect, from complying with the deadline set for the adoption of those delegated acts.
I like this judgment (it will no doubt be appealed by the EC – update January 2018: it did not). It reinforces the need to respect clearly defined dates and deadlines. And it takes a bit of the shine off impact assessments, the duration, extend, and lobbying of which can often lead to death by impact analysis.
Supreme Court goes Jules Verne and crosses the HS2 Bridge at high speed. Aarhus, SEA, EIA and supremacy of EU law all fail to make an impact.
In Chapter XXVIII of Jules Verne’s Around the world in Eighty Days, the train driver, egged on by enthusiastic US passengers and despite objections by Passepartout, reverses his train to cross a wobbly bridge (successfully) at high speed. With all passengers on board. It is a favourite chapter of mine and one which comes in handily in risk management classes.
In HS2 Action Alliance v Secretary of State for Transport, the United Kingdom Supreme Court took inspiration from Chapter XXVIII in dismissing all arguments based on the Aarhus Convention, the EIA Directive, the SEA Directive, and supremacy of EU law. These arguments were raised against the UK Government’s ‘Command paper’, “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” . The command papers sets in motion the reality of the development of the HSs high speed rail link between the South of England, the north and Scotland.
Lord Carnwath summarised the legal issues as follows (at 15):
i) SEA whether the DNS in the circumstances of HS2 is a “plan or programme” which “sets the framework for development consent” and was “required by administrative provisions” within the meaning of articles 2-3 of Directive 2001/42/EC (“the SEA Directive”).
ii) Aarhus whether if the interpretation of the majority in the Court of Appeal is correct, article 3(2)(a) of the SEA Directive is inconsistent with article 7 of the Aarhus Convention, and if so with what consequences.
iii) EIA/Hybrid Bill whether the Hybrid Bill procedure as proposed meets the requirements of Directive 2011/92/EU (“the EIA Directive”), taking account in particular that (a) issues of principle will be excluded from the Select Committee stage, and (b) the debate on the Bill at Second and Third Reading will be subject to a Government whip.
iv) Timing whether the court should intervene at this stage, or whether the court should wait until the Parliamentary process is completed;
v) CJEU reference whether any of the above questions raise uncertain issues of European law on which a reference should be made to the European court.
David Hart QC superbly summarises the Court’s findings and much of its reasoning over at the Human Rights blog and I am happy to refer my readers to him to get, well, up to speed on the judgment. I should simply like to point out that the Court’s boldness lies not so much in the merits of its decision, rather in the more or less belligerent wording and indeed telling off aimed at the Court of Justice.
With respect to Strategic Environmental Assessment – SEA [aimed at ensuring that environmental impacts are identified upstream, by ensuring that programs and plans which will lead to EIA-bound projects, are vetted themselves], a command paper formally does not set anything in stone about the ensuing (or not) development of the project which it will lead to. Much can still change and Members of Parliament have every right and prerogative to have the project amended or indeed scrapped altogether. However, clearly this is a project the realisation of which the government will want to ensure. It is in my view not merely ‘policy’, but a proper plan. Whence in reality this is exactly the kind of program which the SEA Directive had in mind when pressing for impact assessment upstream. Like the train carrying Passepartout et al, the adoption of this Command Paper has set in motion developments which will be all but impossible to stop. With one step following logically from the other, the intentions addressed in the Command Paper display a high degree therefore of fait accompli. The intent and purpose of the SEA Directive in my view does require its application in casu. I appreciate however that intent and purpose as interpretative tool is met lukewarmly by the Supreme Court. (I grant moreover that the Supreme Court does justifiably criticise some of the ECJ’s case-law on the EIA Directive, where very clear provisions nevertheless were altered in their meaning by reference to intent and purpose. The ‘claris’ in ‘in claris non fit interpretatio’ clearly lies in the eye of the beholder).
Of particular EU institutional interest is the Supreme Court’s reference to the Bill of Rights (at 206), Parliamentary Sovereignty, and the 2013 Bundesverfassungsgericht’s judgment on the Counter-Terrorism Database Act. (Translated by the SC in relevant part as as part of a co-operative relationship, a decision of the Court of Justice should not be read by a national court in a way that places in question the identity of the national constitutional order). The SC is right in pointing out the difficulty under the doctrine of separation of powers, of courts second-guessing not the way in which data were put before parliament, but rather how members of that parliament subsequently interpret and apply those data. More generally, though, in suggesting, when criticising the ECJ judgments on that role of the courts, to restrain the ECJ in its interpretative space, the Supreme Court inevitably joins the queue of national supreme courts which are jittery about the positioning of the ECJ (and the ECtHR) on their turf.
This judgment is of very high relevance both for EIA and SEA, and for EU Institutional law. No doubt much more to be chewed on.
A bit of a heavy-handed title however I am often reminded of this maxim, credited (perhaps incorrectly) to Benjamin Disraeli KG. Over at SSRN I refer to it in discussing the statistical merits of the proposed Common European Sales Law. Over and above the (lack of) justification for the proposal, its relationship with European Private International Law is very unclear. The European Commission marches on with its harmonisation of European conflicts law however I for one would argue that with the proposed CESL it may have hit the proverbial wall.