Doc. 8895

27 November 2000

Access to information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to
justice – implementation of the Århus Convention

Recommendation 1430 (2000)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 730th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (22 November 2000)

The Committee of Ministers has carefully studied Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1430 (2000) on “Access to information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice – implementation of the Århus Convention”.

The Committee of Ministers considers the Århus Convention a valuable tool for the conservation of the environment and recognises the importance of its implementation. The Committee shares the Assembly’s opinion that the access of the public to environmental information and public participation in environmental decision-making constitute legitimate rights of European citizens. In this respect the Committee of Ministers refers to the evolving case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Committee of Ministers also recalls its approval of the Action Theme of the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy, implemented by the CO-DBP, which focuses on “Raising awareness and support with policy makers and the public”. The Action Theme promotes a comprehensive view of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as a fundamental part of the quality of life of European citizens.

The Council of Europe European Information and Documentation Centre of Nature Conservation “Centre Naturopa” promotes, through its National Agencies, education, information and awareness concerning the protection of the environment. The Centre has organised several campaigns in the past, and is involved in the current Campaign “Europe, a common heritage”.

The Committee of Ministers would like to recall that Article 13 of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention) provides for the participation of “any body or agency technically qualified in the protection, conservation or management of wild fauna and flora and their habitats”, in the capacity of observer, in the work of the Standing Committee of the Convention.

It also recalls that Recommendation 76 on the effective implementation of the Bern Convention within domestic legal systems, adopted by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention in 1999, recommends, inter alia, that the Contracting Parties “promote participation by the public and non-governmental organisations in the decision-making process and, where appropriate, in the enforcement of the law including possibilities of going to court for implementation of the Bern Convention”. The Recommendation also encourages ratification or accession to the Århus Convention.

Accordingly, the Committee of Ministers considers that the principles of the Århus Convention are already taken into account when it prepares legal instruments with implications for the environment, and are implemented, inter alia, through the Bern Convention.

It should also be noted that new “Guiding principles for sustainable development in Greater Europe” were recently adopted by the 12th Session of European Ministers for Regional Planning held on 7-8 September 2000 in Hanover. These advocate broad-based participation and consultation of society in the spatial planning process, as also recommended by the Århus Convention.