Germany’s governing party has announced it will examine the status of one of the country’s most influential NGOs after their legal interventions forced cities to tackle toxic air pollution.

Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) helped expose Dieselgate and its work led to the launch of diesel bans all over Germany.

The Christian Democratic Union, the governing party in Germany, announced during the party congress in Hamburg that an examination will be launched into whether the group should be continue to be recognised as a charitable organisation. In another application, the CDU’s district association in Nordwürttemberg requested the end of collective actions for DUH, meaning the organisation would not longer be able to stand in court.

DUH is one of the most influential NGOs in Germany. They have been involved in various legal actions, including a series of recent cases on air pollution in German cities. The NGO won cases all over the country – Aachen, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart now all have the obligation to develop and put in place a diesel ban.

In a letter to the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the Green 10 – a groups of leading environmental NGOs active at EU level, including European Environmental Bureau (EEB) – expressed its concerns:

“It would be clearly inappropriate for any EU governments to attempt to restrict NGOs’ access to courts and their access to funding in this way. Furthermore, in this case it would put Germany in clear violation of the Aarhus Convention.”

Access to environmental justice allows NGOs and individuals the right to challenge decisions which harm the environment in court.

On their website, DUH criticises the CDU district association, which has been receiving funding from “the diesel cartel” for many years, and questions the reasons behind the application: “By the way, the reasons given for the applications were that we would (too) successfully enforce EU air pollution control law in court.”

In a short reportDas Erste explains that the CDU has received 6.3 million euros from the auto industry in the last years. According to the report, Steffen Bilger – current Parliamentary State Secretary for Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure – has issued the application and is supported by Matthias Wissmann – former Federal Minister of Transport and also president of German Automobile Industry Association for 10 years.

Stern reported the reaction of Thomas Eigenthaler, Federal Chairman of the German Tax Payers Association: “You can not just pick an association whose business practices you do not like, and then remove its charitable status

In its letter, the Green 10 asks the Commission to monitor the German situation to ensure the respect of EU laws.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General at EEB says:

“Member states must guarantee access to court for civil society. NGOs play an essential role in environmental protection and it is a highly concerning that they face barriers when their actions aim to protect our health and environment. Diesel bans are only one of the many great examples showing that their action is necessary and valuable.”

EEB recently published a report on the barriers to access to justice. To learn more about this barriers, read here.

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