Austria presents new EIA amendment
The Austrian ministry for the environment recently presented its proposal for an amendment to the EIA act, in which it sets out to strengthen climate protection, reduce land consumption, enhance rules for renewable energy projects, and speed up overall proceedings. While the increased protection for environmental aspects has generally been met with approval by NGOs, some procedural changes, aimed at shortening the timeframe in which the public is allowed to enter statements and evidence into the proceedings, has been dismissed as severe impairment to public participation. Additionally, the thresholds for mandatory EIA procedures for parking spaces, shopping centres, cable cars, water reservoirs, and small hydropower in protected areas have been decreased. This is an important improvement to the Austrian EIA act, which is known for having rather high thresholds.
European Court of Justice: Slovakia violates EU law by failing to protect the capercaillie
In 2017, the EU Commission received several complaints regarding twelve Natura 2000 sites in Slovakia, designated for the conservation of the capercaillie. The complaints were alerting the Commission to the excessive use of forest in the special protected areas that were said to have negatively affected the conservation status of the capercaillie and its habitats. Subsequently, the EU Commission sent a warning letter to Slovakia, stating that it would have been obliged under the Flora-Fauna-Habitat Directive and the Birds Directive to carry out an impact assessment with regard to the conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 sites concerned, both for the forest management programs and for the timber harvesting and pest control measures. Slovakia amended the relevant national laws, but the destruction of habitats and the decline of the protected capercaillie could still be proven. Therefore, the EU Commission considered the measures notified by Slovakia to be not sufficient and brought an infringement action before the ECJ.
In its decision of June 22nd, 2022, the ECJ fully upheld the Commission's infringement action. According to the Court, both the forest management programs and their amendments, as well as the timber harvest and measures to prevent threats to forests and to remedy the consequences of damage caused by damaging factors due to special circumstances, constitute plans or projects that are not directly related to or necessary for the management of the Natura 2000 sites concerned. Since they may significantly affect the protected areas, Slovakia should have assessed them for their compatibility with the conservation objectives of these areas. In addition, the Court ruled that Slovakia had not taken appropriate protective measures to prevent the capercaillie's habitat from deteriorating.
Slovakia is now obliged to implement this judgment as soon as possible.