Key facts of the case:
- This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, signed in Aarhus on 25 June 1998 and approved on behalf of the European Community by Council Decision 2005/370/EC of 17 February 2005 (OJ 2005 L 124, p. 1) (‘the Aarhus Convention’), of Articles 191(1) and (2) TFEU and 267 TFEU, of Council Directive 85/337/EEC of 27 June 1985 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (OJ 1985 L 175, p. 40), as amended by Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 (OJ 2003 L 156, p. 17) (‘Directive 85/337’), and of Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control (OJ 1996 L 257, p. 26), as amended by Regulation (EC) No 166/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 January 2006 (OJ 2006 L 33, p. 1) (‘Directive 96/61’).
- This request has been made in proceedings between, on the one hand, Mr Križan and 43 other appellants, natural persons, residents of the town of Pezinok, as well as Mesto Pezinok (town of Pezinok), and, on the other, the Slovenská inšpekcia životného prostredia (Slovak Environment Inspection; ‘the inšpekcia’) concerning the lawfulness of decisions of the administrative authority authorising the construction and operation by Ekologická skládka as (‘Ekologická skládka’), the intervener in the main proceedings, of a landfill site for waste.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
- Article 267 TFEU must be interpreted as meaning that a national court, such as the referring court, is obliged to make, of its own motion, a request for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union even though it is ruling on a referral back to it after its first decision was set aside by the constitutional court of the Member State concerned and even though a national rule obliges it to resolve the dispute by following the legal opinion of that latter court.
- Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control, as amended by Regulation (EC) No 166/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 January 2006, must be interpreted as meaning that it:
- requires that the public concerned have access to an urban planning decision, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, from the beginning of the authorisation procedure for the installation concerned,
- does not allow the competent national authorities to refuse the public concerned access to such a decision by relying on the protection of the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided for by national or European Union law to protect a legitimate economic interest, and
- does not preclude the possibility of rectifying, during the administrative procedure at second instance, an unjustified refusal to make available to the public concerned an urban planning decision, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, during the administrative procedure at first instance, provided that all options and solutions remain possible and that regularisation at that stage of the procedure still allows that public effectively to influence the outcome of the decision-making process, this being a matter for the national court to determine.
- Article 15a of Directive 96/61, as amended by Regulation No 166/2006, must be interpreted as meaning that members of the public concerned must be able, in the context of the action provided for by that provision, to ask the court or competent independent and impartial body established by law to order interim measures such as temporarily to suspend the application of a permit, within the meaning of Article 4 of that directive, pending the final decision.
- A decision of a national court, taken in the context of national proceedings implementing the obligations resulting from Article 15a of Directive 96/61, as amended by Regulation No 166/2006, and from Article 9(2) and (4) of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, signed in Aarhus on 25 June 1998 and approved on behalf of the European Community by Council Decision 2005/370/EC of 17 February 2005, which annuls a permit granted in infringement of the provisions of that directive is not capable, in itself, of constituting an unjustified interference with the developer’s right to property enshrined in Article 17 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.