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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2011

Simon Marsden
Flinders Law School. Email:


This article analyses the contribution made to the effective implementation of international environmental law in the EU by the ECJ invoking direct application and effect of international treaties. It considers the requirements of these doctrines in international law, distinguishing them from related doctrines in EU law. It reviews jurisprudence and literature and evaluates future potential. Implications for direct application and effect from the EU doctrine of primacy and for the principle of effective judicial protection are examined, and alternatives to full transposition, implementation and enforcement explored, including non-compliance procedures.

Shorter Articles
Copyright © 2011 British Institute of International and Comparative Law

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1 Following the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, where possible all references to EC law have been replaced with references to EU or ‘European law’. The renumbering of articles in the Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, OJ C115/13, and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, OJ C115/47, is followed although the previous numbered version is also given. For implications from the changes see de Witte, B, ‘International Law as a Tool for the European Union’ (2009) 5 European Constitutional Law Review 265CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Lee, M, ‘The Environmental Implications of the Lisbon Treaty’ (2008) 10 Environmental Law Review 131CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 J Wouters, A Nollkaemper and E de Wet (eds), The Europeanisation of International Law—The Status of International Law in the EU and its Member States (TMC Asser Press, The Hague, 2008).

3 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus) 25 June 1998, 2161 UNTS 447.

4 Regulation (EC) No. 1367/2006 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, OJ L264/13, arts 10–12 (the ‘Aarhus Regulation’). This fails to deal with the constitutional issue of standing before the ECJ; see pending Case T-338/08, Stichting Natuur en Milieu and Pesticides Action Network Europe v Commission, Application, OJ C301/2008, 40; and UNECE Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Compliance Committee Thirty-second meeting, Geneva, 11–14 April 2011, Report of the Compliance Committee Addendum [ClientEarth]; Findings and recommendations with regard to communication ACCC/C/2008/32 (Part I) concerning compliance by the European Union. Adopted on 14 April 2011, ECE/MP.PP/C.1/2011/4/Add.1 <>.

5 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on access to justice in environmental matters, Brussels, 24.10.2003 COM(2003) 624 final, 2003/0246 (COD). This is needed to address the issue of standing before the Member State courts but it has not been supported. See Milieu Ltd, Summary Report on the Inventory of EU Member States' Measures on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Report for the European Commission, DG Environment, Brussels, 18; and unreported Case C-240/09, Lesoochranárske Zoskupenie VLK v Ministerstvo životného prostredia Slovenskej republiky, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 8 March 2011.

6 T Treves, A Tanzi, L Pineschi, C Pitea, C Ragni, FR Jacur (eds), Non-Compliance Procedures and Mechanisms and the Effectiveness of International Environmental Agreements (TMC Asser Press, The Hague, 2009).

7 For discussion in relation to the views of M Fitzmaurice in her lecture to The Hague Academy of International Law, see T Hillier, Sourcebook on Public International Law (Cavendish, London, 1998) 36–37.

8 Koester, V, ‘Global Environmental Agreements—Drafting, Formulation and Character’ (2005) 34 Environmental Policy and Law 171172Google Scholar.

9 Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo) 25 February 1991, 1989 UNTS 309.

10 See Economic Commission for Europe, Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, Implementation Committee, Twentieth Session, Geneva, 11–13 January 2011, Opinions of the Implementation Committee, Note by the Implementation Committee, ECE/MP.EIA/IC/2011/INF.1, paras 7 and 8. “The provision in the Constitution to directly apply international agreements is considered by the Committee as being insufficient for proper implementation of the Convention without more detailed provisions in the legislation.” (decision IV/2, annex II, para 28).

11 C Tietje, ‘The Status of International Law in the European Legal Order: The Case of International Treaties and Non-Binding International Instruments’ in Wouters et al (n 2) 58.

12 C Redgwell, ‘National Implementation’ in D Bodansky, J Brunnée and E Hey (eds) The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (OUP, Oxford, 2007) 926, 928; A Epiney, B Hofstötter and M Wyssling, ‘The Status of “Europeanised” International Law in Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein’, in Wouters et al (n 2) 149.

13 Case 12/86, Demirel v Schwäbisch Gmünd [1987] ECR 3719, para 14; Case C-162/96, Racke v Hauptzollamt Mainz [1998] ECR I-3655, para 31; and Case C-300/98, Christian Dior [2000] ECR I-11307, para 42. More recently the ECJ has expanded this test for international agreements; see Wennerås, P, ‘Towards an Ever Greener Union? Competence in the Field of the Environment and Beyond’ (2008) 45 CMLR 1679Google Scholar.

14 Redgwell (n 12) 926.

15 Bronckers, M, ‘“From Direct Effect” to “Muted Dialogue”: Recent Developments in the European Courts’ Case Law on the WTO and Beyond' (2008) Journal of International Economic Law 1011Google Scholar; A Rosas, ‘The European Court of Justice and Public International Law’ in Wouters et al (n 2) 76.

16 See Peters, A, ‘The Position of International Law within the European Community Legal Order’ (1997) 40 German Yearbook of International Law 36Google Scholar.

17 Hinarejos, A, ‘On the Legal Effects of Framework Decisions and Decisions: Directly Applicable, Directly Effective, Self-Executing, Supreme?’ (2008) 14 European Law Journal 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 620.

18 Winter, JA, ‘Direct Applicability and Direct Effect. Two Distinct and Different Concepts in Community Law’ (1972) 9 CMLR 425Google Scholar.

19 W Lacey, ‘The Law of Treaties’ in S Blay, R Piotrowicz and M Tsamenyi, Public International Law: An Australian Perspective (2nd edn, OUP, Melbourne, 2005) 99.

20 Economic and Social Council, UNECE, Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Compliance Committee, 12th Meeting, Geneva, 14–16 June 2006, Report of the Meeting, Addendum. Findings and Recommendations with regard to compliance by Belgium with its obligations under the Aarhus Convention in relation to the rights of environmental organizations to have access to justice (Communication ACCC/C/2005/11 by Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen VZW (Belgium)), ECE/MP.PP/C.1/2006/4/Add.2 28 July 2006, para 41.

21 T Stephens, International Courts and Environmental Protection (CUP, Cambridge, 2009).

22 Redgwell (n 12) 926–928.

23 Case C-377/98, Netherlands v Parliament and Council [2001] ECR I-7079.

24 These are non-EU Member States; see R Wahl, ‘Europeanisation beyond Supremacy’ in Wouters et al (n 2) 19. See also A Dashwood and M Maresceau (eds) Law and Practice of EU External Relations (CUP, Cambridge, 2008), and M Cremona (ed) Developments in EU External Relations Law (OUP, Oxford, 2008).

25 Arts 30, 44, 53 and 64 VCLT. See generally, J Klabbers, Treaty Conflict and the European Union (CUP, Cambridge, 2009).

26 Case C-61/94 Commission v Germany [1996] ECR I-3989, para 52, and Case C-311/04, Algemene Scheeps Agentuur Dordrecht [2006] ECR I-609, para 25.

27 Case 181/73, Haegeman v Belgium [1974] ECR 449, para 5.

28 Case 6/64, Costa v ENEL [1964] ECR 1151.

29 Note Joined Cases C-402/05 P & 415/05 P, Yassin Abdullah Kadi, und Al Barakaat International Foundation v Council and Commission, judgment of the Grand Chamber of 3 September 2008 OJ C285-2, and extensive literature including de Wet, E, ‘The Role of European Courts in the Development of a Hierarchy of Norms within International Law: Evidence of Constitutionalisation?’ (2009) 5 European Constitutional Law Review 284CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Case C-308/06, The Queen on the application of International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo), Greek Shipping Co-operation Committee, Lloyd's Register, International Salvage Union v Secretary of State for Transport [2008] ECR I-4057, paras 42–45.

31 Joined Cases C 21–24/72, International Fruit Company and Others [1972] ECR 1219, para 7.

32 Confirmed in Case C-344/04, IATA and ELFAA [2006] ECR I-403, para 39. This case also emphasized the principle of legal certainty, and highlights its relationship with direct effect; this ensures ‘that rules should be clear and precise, so that individuals may ascertain unequivocally what their rights and obligations are and may take steps accordingly’, para 68.

33 These two perspectives from the viewpoint of public international law on one hand and EU law on the other are examined by Tietje (n 11) 56–58.

34 What may be considered ‘indirect application’ of treaties has been termed the principle of ‘systemic integration’; see McLachlan, C, ‘The Principle of Systemic Integration and art 31(3)(c) of the Vienna Convention’ (2005) 54 ICLQ 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 279.

35 The indirect effect of treaties in EU and national law is known as ‘consistent interpretation’, see Betlem, G and Nollkaemper, A, ‘Giving Effect to Public International Law and European Community Law before Domestic Courts: A Comparative Analysis of the Doctrine of Consistent Interpretation’ (2003) 1 EJIL 3Google Scholar, 569.

36 A Ryall, Effective Judicial Protection and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive in Ireland, (Hart, Oxford, 2009), 77, citing Case 14/83 Von Colson and Kamann v Land Nordrhein-Westfalen [1984] ECR 1891, para 23.

37 See (n 4) (ClientEarth).

38 See (n 4) (ClientEarth), para 97.

39 See (n 4) (Case T-338/08).

40 See (n 5) (Case C-240/09).

41 Lenaerts, K and Corthaut, T, ‘Of Birds and Hedges: The Role of Primacy in Invoking Norms of EU Law’ (2006) 31 European Law Review 3Google Scholar, 287, 292. ECJ Judge Rosas comments (n 15) 75: ‘As far as treaties (agreements) are concerned, the EU approach is basically a monistic one: the treaties concluded by the Council become, ipso facto, part of EU law, without any need for further measures of transposition or incorporation. The decision by the Council to conclude the agreement thus makes it directly applicable.’

42 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Washington) 3 March 1973, 993 UNTS 243.

43 The Annexes contain non-CITES species. See Council Regulation EC No 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein [1997] OJ L61/1–69), as amended.

44 Prechal, S, ‘Does Direct Effect Still Matter? (2000) 37 CMLR 10471069Google Scholar and Directives in EC Law (OUP, Oxford, 2005) 226–269; Eleftheriadis, P, ‘The Direct Effect of Community Law: Conceptual Issues’ (1996) 16 Yearbook of European Law 205CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In disagreement, Winter (n 18); Opinion of AG Warner in Case 131/79, Santillo [1980] ECR 1585; S Weatherill, Cases and Materials on EU Law (7th edn, OUP, Oxford, 2005) 133; K Lenaerts and P Van Nuffel, Constitutional Law of the European Union (2nd edn, Sweet and Maxwell, London, 2005) 702–703; D Wyatt and A Dashwood, European Union Law (5th edn, Sweet and Maxwell, London, 2006) 128; A Arnull, The European Union and its Court of Justice (2nd edn, OUP, Oxford, 2006) 185–187.

45 Case C-213/03, Syndicat professionnel coordination des pêcheurs de l'étang de Berre et de la région v Électricité de France [2004] ECR I-7357.

46 Foster and Elam v Neilson, US SC 1829, 2 Peters (US) 253.

47 FL Kirgis, ‘International Agreements and US Law’ (1997) ASIL Insights. <>.

48 Citing Lenaerts and Corthaut (n 41) 287; and Redgwell (n 12) 928 respectively.

49 Cases C-6 /90 and C-9/90, Francovich and Bonifaci [1991] ECR I-05357.

50 Case 12/86 (n 13).

51 Case C-171/01, Wählergruppe Gemeinsam [2003] ECR I-4301 para 54.

52 Case C-213/03 (n 45) para 39.

53 Case C-213/03 (n 45) paras 31–47 which are concerned with both the observations of the Parties and the findings of the Court.

54 Hinarejos (n 17) 623.

55 See also Lenaerts and Corthaut (n 41).

56 Directives usually have exclusionary effects once the deadline for transposition has passed; before then a Member State is still prohibited from adopting measures which seriously compromise the achievement of its objectives.

57 Hinarejos (n 17) 624.

58 Case 6/64 (n 28); Case C-106/77 Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal [1978] ECR 629. Hinarejos (n 17) 624, 627–628; Lenaerts and Corthaut (n 41); and Koch, C, ‘The Doctrine of Supremacy of European Community Law as a Condition Precedent for the Doctrine of Direct Effect’ (2005) 9 International Trade and Business Law Review 201Google Scholar.

59 Hinarejos (n 17) 624, and fns 13 and 14.

60 Lenaerts and Corthaut (n 41) 288.

61 Case C-213/03 (n 45), in particular paras 42–52.

62 Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources (Athens) 17 May 1980, UNTS, Vol. 1328, No I-22281; Council Decision 83/101/EEC of 28 February 1983 [1983] OJ L67, 1.

63 Amended at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries held in Syracuse on 7–8 March 1996; Council Decision 1999/801/EC of 22 October 1999 [1999] OJ L322, 18.

64 Case C-213/03 (n 45) para 42. For analysis of this, see P-Kuijper, J, ‘Case C-239/03, Commission v French Republic’ (2005) 42 CMLR 1499Google Scholar; Wennerås (n 13) 1681.

65 Case C-213/03 (n 45) para 45.

66 Case C-239/03, Commission of the European Communities v French Republic (Étang de Berre) [2004] ECR I-9325.

67 Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (Barcelona) 16 February 1976, UNTS, Vol. 1102, No I-16908; Council Decision 77/585/EEC of 25 July 1977 [1977] OJ L 240/1.

68 para 29.

69 Kuijper (n 64) 1491.

70 ibid.

71 Case C-431/05 Merck Genéricos Produtos Farmacêuticos [2007] ECR 1-7001.

72 See Churchill, R and Scott, J, ‘The MOX Plant Litigation: The First Half-Life’ (2004) 53 ICLQ 643CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

73 Case C-459/03, Commission v Ireland [2006] ECR I-4635.

74 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Montego Bay), 10 December 1982 (1983) 1833 ILM 396. For the outcomes of and implications on the other proceedings, see Lavranos, N, ‘Case Comment: The Exclusive Jurisdiction of the Court of Justice’ (2007) 32 European Law Review 1Google Scholar, 83.

75 Opinion of Advocate-General Poiares Maduro delivered on 18 January 2006: Case C-459/03 (n 73).

76 Case C-13/00, Commission v Ireland [2001] ECR I-2943.

77 See T Koivurova, Environmental Impact Assessment in the Arctic: A Study of International Legal Norms (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2002) 201.

78 See M Fitzmaurice, ‘Non-Compliance Procedures and the Law of Treaties’ in Treves et al (n 6) 453; and A Ali, ‘Non-Compliance Procedures in Multilateral Environmental Agreements: The Interaction between International Law and European Union Law’ in Treves et al (n 6) 521.

79 Personal communication, M Sauer, 5th Session Meeting of the Parties, Geneva 21 June 2011.

80 N Bonvoisin, ‘Links to the Espoo Convention on Transboundary EIA’, presentation to Conference for the 25th Anniversary of the EIA Directive, Leuven, 18–19 November 2010.

81 See (n 10) above. The legal status of these opinions is considered by N Craik and T Koivurova in ‘The Legal Status of Subsidiary Body Rulings under the Espoo Convention’ (2011) 20(3) RECIEL, forthcoming.

82 ClientEarth (n 4).

83 Case C-308/06 (n 30).

84 Directive 2005/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on ship source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements, OJ L 255/11.

85 UNCLOS (n 74); International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (London), 2 Nov 1973, supplemented by Protocol, 17 February 1978, 12 ILM 1319 (1973) and 1340 UNTS 61 (1978).

86 Council Decision 98/392/EC of 23 March 1998 [1998] OJ L179/1.

87 Case C-308/06 (n 30) para 59.

88 ibid para 61.

89 ibid para 64.

90 Opinion of Advocate General Kokott, 20 November 2007, Case C-308/06 (n 30).

91 Case C-286/90, Poulsen and Diva Navigation [1992] ECR I-6019.

92 See (n 90) paras 50 and 59.

93 Denza, E, ‘Case Comment: A Note on Intertanko’ (2008) 33 European Law Review 6, 870, 875876Google Scholar.

94 Wennerås (n 13) 1680–1682.

95 Case C-377/98 (n 23) paras 53–54.

96 Wennerås (n 13) 1680.

97 See (n 5).

98 Greece and Sweden also submitted written observations, but did not attend the hearing.

99 Opinion of Advocate General Sharpston delivered on 15 July 2010, Case C-240/09, Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK v Ministerstvo životného prostedia Slovenskej republiky (Reference for a preliminary ruling from the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky (Slovakia)).

100 ibid para 38.

101 ibid fn 19.

102 See (n 45).

103 See (n 99) para 85 and fn 59.

104 See (n 71).

105 See (n 99) paras 64–80.

106 ibid para 54.

107 ibid para 77.

108 Council Decision of 17 February 2005 on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters [2005] OJ L124/1: Decision 2005/370/EC.

109 See (n 99) para 78.

110 ibid para 55.

111 ibid para 85.

112 ibid para 90. The AG distinguishes between procedural and substantive criteria to refute the argument by LZ that the need for criteria to be set does not necessarily preclude direct effect.

113 ibid paras 86–89.

114 See Lesoochranárske Zoskupenie VLK (n 5), para 31.

115 ibid paras 39–43.

116 See (n 99) paras 66–79.

117 See (n 5) para 35.

118 ibid paras 36–37.

119 See (n 5) para 51.

120 See (n 99) para 80.