27. Februar 2023 | NEWSFLASH Umweltrecht

English Summary

ECJ clearly opposes the use of neonicotinoids 

In its ruling of January 2023, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed the existing restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. This underlines the following: Member states may no longer approve seeds used in the field by emergency authorization.

The substances at issue are active substances from the neonicotinoid family, which are mainly used in agriculture as insecticides to treat seeds. They were first approved in the EU in 1991, but quickly came under the suspicion of having a toxic effect on insects, which has since been confirmed. The use of crop protection products containing these ingredients has therefore been restricted in the EU since 2013. However, there are exceptions to these rules: In concrete danger to plants, emergency authorizations are possible for a maximum of 120 days each. 

These emergency authorizations have been used extensively, among others also by Belgium. Starting in October 2018, they granted first two, then shortly after another four emergency authorizations. In the following year, two environmental organizations, together with a beekeeper, filed a lawsuit against this. They argued that the substances were applied in a preventive way rather than to combat concrete dangers. As the national court had doubts about the scope and interpretation of the exception, it referred several questions to the ECJ.

In its ruling, the ECJ has now clarified that member states are not permitted to authorize the placing on the market of plant protection products containing these substances for the treatment of seeds or the placing on the market and use of seeds treated with these products.

SLAPP Suits against environmentalists on the rise

The acronym "SLAPP" stands for strategic litigation against public participation. It is not without reason that the abbreviation resembles the English word slap: because the court proceedings serve the purpose – often in an abusive manner – of intimidating and silencing critics. SLAPPs can be based on a wide variety of legal grounds, but most of them are civil suits for damages or injunctive relief, or criminal suits for credit damage, etc.

In Austria, an example of attempted intimidation was an initiative by the City of Vienna in connection with the occupation of construction sites for the then planned Lobau tunnel and the city road, or who had spoken out against the construction of the infrastructure projects. The City of Vienna sent a letter to various addresses through a law firm, threatening that if the occupation continued, the people involved would be jointly and severally liable for the damage caused by the delay in the construction work. The problem was that the letter found its way not only to activists who were capable of committing offences, but also to 13-year-olds, activists who had never been involved in the occupation and other non-activist individuals who had only made negative comments about the construction of the Lobau tunnel in the media.

Regarding Last Generation activists, it is often decision-makers who exert pressure. As a result of protests, during which activists sometimes glued themselves to the street to speak out against the lack of climate protection measures, the election campaigning governor of Lower Austria proposed an amendment to the Assembly Act and demanded higher penalties for demonstrators. Chancellor Nehammer recently announced his intention to have a review carried out to determine whether the current administrative offences in dealing with climate stickers were "sufficient" or whether stricter penalties were necessary.

The European Commission has now published a draft anti-SLAPP directive. The proposed directive covers SLAPPs in civil cases with cross-border implications. It aims to enable judges to dismiss manifestly unfounded claims against journalists and human rights defenders more quickly. It also introduces several procedural guarantees and remedies, such as damages and deterrent penalties for abusive claims.