Challenging environmentally damaging decisions in court is burdensome and barriers to justice are widespread across the EU, according to a new EEB report.

Accessing justice for environmental matters is a struggle in the EU, a new report finds.

The EU is a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. But despite having some of the most advanced environmental laws, Member States are failing in some cases to ensure access to justice for NGOs and citizens.

The report identifies and explains five current barriers to access to justice – standing, time, knowledge, money and repercussions – and makes key recommendations to remove these barriers.

In 2003, the European Commission had a legislative proposal for a Directive on Access to Justice. This Directive would have helped to ensure easier access to justice for citizens and environmental groups but it was blocked by the Member States.

After years and no progress on the proposed directive, the initiative was eventually abandoned in 2014.

A new directive that would protect citizens from repercussions is in preparation – the anti-SLAPP Directive. But this proposal doesn’t include NGOs, the EEB thinks it is a mistake as NGOs are also victims of harassment. This Directive is an opportunity to allow class action for victims of corporate harm, generally, and therefore those affected by environmental harm.

Francesca Carlsson, Legal Officer at the EEB, said:

“Time and again in Europe citizens have stood up to dangerous government decisions by challenging them in court. In the UK and Spain, governments have been forced to act on air pollution, in Portugal off-shore oil-drilling was abandoned and in Germany logging in the Hambach forest was stopped – all thanks to legal challenges by citizens groups.

NGOs must be able to continue to play this important role as watchdogs of Europe’s hard-won environmental protections.

Member States should work to ensure access to courts, allow citizens and NGOs to stand, promote appropriate timelines, limit costs, give capacity to judges, and protect citizens from possible repercussions.”