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Location policy at the expense of the environment

Slovenia’s government wants to restrict the right of civil society to have a say in controversial construction projects. Other Alpine countries are also pursuing location policies at the expense of the environment.

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the Slovenian government moved to restrict the right of NGOs to have a say in environmental impact assessments (EIA). The environmental movement “Balkan River Defence” organised a protest action in May. Several thousand people supported it on the internet, and around 1,000 took to the streets of Ljubljana. CIPRA Slovenia also criticised the government’s actions. “NGOs are not, as is often asserted, opponents of development”, says Špela Berlot, Executive Director of CIPRA Slovenia: “As representatives of civil society they express the interests of local communities”.

Associations’ right of appeal: “Important tool in the rule of law”.

In Liechtenstein, Parliament is currently discussing a possible restriction on the right of associations to lodge complaints on environmental issues. This is, however, an important instrument in a constitutional state, as Monika Gstöhl, the Executive Director of CIPRA Liechtenstein and the Liechtenstein Society for Environmental Protection (LGU) believes: “The LGU participates in the environmentally and nature-friendly design of legally compliant projects; it only takes legal action in exceptional cases and for justified reasons. In Switzerland, an initiative to abolish the right of association appeal was rejected in 2008.

In Austria, the former government passed the Location Development Act, which has been in force since 2019. It enables project applicants to push through large infrastructure projects within 12 months. As parts of the law are in conflict with the EIA Directive and the precautionary principle, the EU has initiated infringement proceedings. The amendment to the EIA Act had already introduced stricter criteria for the recognition of environmental organisations in 2018: they must prove their non-profit status with the tax authorities and have at least 100 members; associations require at least five member associations. “Associations are thus confronted with appreciable costs in terms of money and time,” explains Paul Kuncio, CEO of CIPRA Austria.

Hurdles for NGOs

The charitable status of NGOs is currently at stake in Germany. According to a ruling by the German Federal Fiscal Court, NGOs such as Attac and Campact lost their non-profit status in 2019, and with this certain tax advantages, on the grounds that they were not politically neutral. German Environmental Aid has also been a frequent topic of discussion in this regard, as Uwe Roth, Executive Director of CIPRA Germany, explains. He asks: “Can environmental protection and nature conservation be at all politically neutral nowadays?

 

Sources and more information:

https://balkangreenenergynews.com/slovenian-government-is-taking-rights-from-environmental-ngos/, https://orf.at/stories/3141645/ (de), www.derstandard.at/story/2000110172899/eu-kommission-zerpflueckt-oesterreichisches-standortentwicklungsgesetz (de), https://lgu.li/artikel/einschraenkung-des-verbandsbeschwerderechts (de), www.wz.de/wirtschaft/gerichtsurteil-im-fall-attac-warum-die-deutsche-umwelthilfe-ihre-gemeinnuetzigkeit-nicht-so-leicht-verliert_aid-37321695 (de), www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article202284082/Campact-Gemeinnuetzigkeit-aberkannt-Steuervorteil-ade.html (de)