Let green groups police environmental law, says EU body

Participation of environmental groups is necessary to ensure the better implementation of EU environmental laws, says the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), one of the main EU advisory bodies.

The European Union is a global leader when it comes to protecting the environment. But despite the high number of laws, the environmental benefits often remain unseen due to poor levels of implementation across member states.

In a recent opinion, the EESC warned about the implementation gaps in EU environmental laws and called for more inclusive and active participation of civil society groups to assess whether member states comply with legislation. The group wrote:

“Fragmented and uneven implementation of the EU environmental legislation is a serious problem in many EU member states”

“The EESC reiterates that effective implementation of environmental protection measures hinges partly on civil society – employers, workers and other representatives of society − being granted an active role.”

Environmental groups such as the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and its network of national NGOs act as watchdogs of environmental legislation across Europe. However, they face great challenges in their work, the EEB said in a new study recently.

The report highlights common barriers that civil society groups face such as limited access to justice, resources and funding. Some NGOs also reportedly fear the repercussions of their legal actions, which range from direct intimidation to legal threats from companies.

One of the barriers highlighted by both the EESC and the EEB is the lack of resources allocated to training judges.

“Europe and its member states also need specialised judges and prosecutors,” said the EESC.

Francesca Carlsson, a legal officer with the EEB, agreed and added:

“It is essential that the judiciary is given sufficient resources to avoid a backlog of environmental cases that slow down court procedures. We need to ensure that judges receive training to handle environmental claims.”