2.2 The effect on national law
The Directive established 31 December 1992 as the date by which the member states had to implement its provisions in national law. The member states thus had a period of thirty (30) months (from June 1990 to December 1992) in which to adopt the provisions needed to introduce the Directive's requirements into national law. For a list of the measures implementing the Directive in the member states, see Annex 2.
Those member states (Denmark, France, and the Netherlands) with general access to information legislation in effect prior to the adoption of the Directive were able to implement the Directive with the fewest changes to their national legislation. In each case, only minor modifications to national law have been necessary. The Directive has not had any large impact on either legislation or practice in these countries.
The new member states which entered the EU in 1995, likewise had little difficulty meeting the requirements of the Directive. As noted above, Austria, in anticipation of EU membership, adopted legislation parallel to the Directive in 1993. Finland and, in particular, Sweden both have strong laws on access to information, not limited to environmental information. The practice in Finland and Sweden is distinguished by a climate of openness, swift response to requests, and narrowly drawn exceptions.
For the majority of member states, however, new legislation was needed. Briefly, a number of key aspects of the process in these member states will be noted.
In some member states, the division of competencies among governmental structures can complicate implementation. For example, in Belgium, legislative changes took place at both the national and regional level (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels). Thus, four separate regimes have now been established for access to environmental information depending on location and administrative competencies. In Germany, it is the federal states which have responsibility for much of environmental regulation and a number of federal states acted in advance of federal implementing legislation.
Certain member states, such as the United Kingdom, prepared the way by engaging in a consultation process before adopting the necessary legislation. Others, such as Luxembourg, transposed many of the provisions of the Directive into national law, virtually verbatim.
Ireland is the only member state to have revised its original implementing legislation to take initial experiences into account. Moreover, extension of access to information rights to government information in general is now under discussion.
Portugal is an example of a member state which added an innovative touch to its legislation by establishing a special body to consider disputes arising from refusals to provide access to environmental information. Portugal's step is presaged by France which had established an administrative tribunal to consider disputes arising under its pre-existing general law concerning access to government information.
In some cases, pressure from the European Commission and other sources helped move the process of implementation forward.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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