Aarhus in the EU

The Aarhus Convention was signed on 25 June 1998 in Aarhus (Denmark) by the European Community (now European UNion). Since then, the European Union has been adopting appropriate legislation both at the Member States level and at the level of its institutions and bodies in order to fully implement this international legal instrument. As of today, all EU Member states and the European Union itself have ratified the Convention. These states have an individual and collective responsibility to ensure that the Convention is implemented in their countries, and also by EU Institutions and bodies.

In the EU the implementation of “Aarhus” has included amendments to existing legislation, including the Directive on Access to Environmental Information (1990) and public participation elements in Directives such as the Environmental Impact Assessment; the Strategic Environmental Assessment; and the Water Framework Directive.

The following steps have also been taken:

• Adoption of Directive 2003/4 on public access to information.
• Adoption of Directive 2003/35 on public participation.
• Adoption of Regulation 1367/2006 applying the Convention to EU institutions and bodies.
• Adoption of Decision 2005/370/EC on ratification of the Convention and deposit of its instrument of ratification (EU became a Party to the Convention on 17 February 2005).

In 2003, the Commission also presented a proposal for a Directive on Access to Justice, COM (2003) 624. The European Parliament supported the proposal but in the Council of Ministers a large coalition of countries have so far prevented the adoption of this Directive.

While the proposed Directive on Access to Justice is waiting to be approved, other Aarhus-related Directives should have been transposed into the national legislation and implemented in the member states. Whether this is done properly remains to be seen and judged when countries start reporting to the European Commission on the issue.


In 2003 two Directives concerning the first and second "pillars" of the Aarhus Convention were adopted and were to be implemented in the national law of the EU Member States by 14 February and 25 June 2005 respectively.

Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental informationand repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC

Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 96/61/EC

Both Directives 2003/4 and 2003/35 contain provisions on access to justice.

The Commission also presented a Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on access to justice in environmental matters COM(2003) 624 which was not adopted

Decision 2005/370/EC  on conclusion of the Aarhus Convention by the EC was adopted on 17 February 2005 and the EC is a Party to the Convention since May 2005.

Regulation (EC) N° 1367/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Community institutions and bodies which entered into force on 28 September 2006 and became of application on 17 July 2007. The "Aarhus Regulation" covers not only the institutions, but also bodies, offices or agencies established by, or on the basis of the EC Treaty.  

Some other relevant legislative acts

Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents to all Community institutions and bodies

Provisions for public participation in environmental decision-making are furthermore to be found in a number of other environmental directives, among others:

Directive 2001/42/EC of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of certain plans and programmes on the environment 

Directive 2000/60/EC of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy 

Directive 2014/52/EU of 16 April 2014 amending Directive 2011/92/EU on assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment

Directive 2010/75/EU of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control)





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