NGOs May Sue European Governments for Failure to Comply with EU Mandatory Environmental Standards

The National Law Review

In November, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CoJ”) held once again that NGOs and persons directly concerned may bring legal actions before national courts against EU Member States that fail to comply with EU mandatory environmental standards. The CoJ’s decision (CJEU, C-404/13) concerned the UK government’s failure to adopt adequate plans to ensure compliance with ambient air limits for nitrogen dioxide (“NO2”) in sixteen zones, including London. The CoJ instructed the UK Supreme Court to adopt “any necessary measure” on the UK government to establish plans that demonstrate how it will comply with the limits for NO2 within a period that should be as short as possible.

The CoJ’s decision establishes an important precedent for a possible wave of legal challenges to force national authorities to limit NO2 and benzene pollution in large cities across Europe. It is also an important precedent for national litigation in those Member States that fail to comply with EU environmental legislation that requires them to achieve a certain result, even if the Commission has not taken legal action against such national non-compliance.

Thus, the case confirms that environmental NGOs have a powerful litigation route of action as an alternative to the current political context in Brussels where environmental policy does not seem to be among the priorities of the new European Commission.

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