One of the European Union’s fundamental objectives is sustainable development. It has been enshrined in various provisions of the founding treaties and is encapsulated in different regulatory schemes. While significant uncertainties remain regarding its meaning, it is doubtless that sustainable development is a normative concept rather than a mere policy guideline. That being said, the gap between the legal and political recognitions of sustainable development and the numerous EU policies that are unable to revert unsustainable trends is widening. Whether the concept is likely to add teeth to environmental policy remains to be seen.
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Opinion 2/13, EU: C: 2014: 2454, ¶ 156.
See, Case 26/62, NV Algemene Transport-En Expeditie Onderneming Van Gend en Loos v. Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen,  E.C.R.1, ¶ 12 [hereinafter Van Gen den Loos Case]; Case 6/64, Costa v. ENEL,  E.C.R. I-585 [hereinafter Costa Case]; Opinion 1/09, 2011 E.C.R. I-01137, ¶ 65 [hereinafter Opinion 1/09].
Case 11/70, Internationale Handelsgesellschaft v. Einfuhr- und Vorratsstelle für Getreide und Futtermittel,  E.C.R. I-1161; Case C-399/11, Stefano Melloni v. Ministerio Fiscal,  2 C.M.L.R. 43, ¶ 59. See also ECJ, Opinion 1/91, European Economic Area Treaty  ECR I-6079, ¶ 21.
Van Gen den Loos Case, supra note 2, at 12; Opinion 1/09, supra note 2, ¶ 65.
Opinion 2/13, EU: C: 2014: 2454, ¶ 167.
Id., ¶ 158.
Costa Case, supra note 2, at 585.
Catalytic converters became mandatory in all new cars with petrol engines at the beginning of the 90s. See Council Directive 91/441/EEC, art.1, 1991 O.J. (L 242). This technology has reduced the nitrogen oxide,hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and particle emissions to a fraction of their former quantities. See ELLI LOUKA, CONFLICTING INTEGRATION: THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW OF THE EUROPEAN UNION 135 (2004).
See Council Directive 2008/101/EC, 2009 O.J. (L 8/3) (amendment includes aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community. See Case C-366/10, Air Transport Association of America and Others,  ECR I-13755.
EEA, URBAN SPRAWL IN EUROPE. THE IGNORED CHALLENGE (2006).
WCED, OUR COMMON FUTURE 86 (1987).
MARIE-CLAIRE CORDONIER SEGGER ET AL., SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT LAW (2011).
V. Lowe, Sustainable Development and Unsustainable Arguments, in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 19 (Alan Boyle & David Freestone eds., 1999); Duncan French, Sustainable Development, in HANDBOOK ON INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 56 (Malgosia Fitzmaurice et al. eds., 2010).
Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary v Slovakia), 1997 I. C. J. 7, ¶ 140 (Sept.1997). See also Arbitration Regarding the Iron Rhine Railway (Belgium v. Netherlands), I.C.G. J. 373, ¶ 222 (May 2005) [hereinafter Iron Rhine Railway Case]; Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay), 2010 I. C. J. 14, ¶ 177 (April 2010).
Iron Rhine Railway Case, supra note 14, ¶ 58.
Pursuant to Article 2 EEC, the European Economic Communities were aiming at “an harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, … an accelerated raising of the standards of living”.
Before the Single European Act, the EEC Treaty did not contain any explicit legal basis for environmental protection. Accordingly, the European lawmaker resorted to an internal market legal basis and a gap-filling provision (Article 235 EEC, now Article 352 TFEU) to adopt environmental legislation.
Title XX of the TFEU on the environment policy authorizes the legislature to take action within a context delineated by objectives, principles, and criteria.
JAN H. JANS & HANS H.B. VEDDER, EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 10 (4th ed., 2012).
At Lisbon, the Treaty of Rome was renamed as the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).
See also the 6th recital of the preamble of the TEU.
However, new economic treaties are not enshrining sustainability requirements. For instance, Article 9 of the inter-governmental treaty adopted on 1 March 2012 on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union refers to “economic growth through enhanced convergence and competitiveness”.
NICOLAS DE SADELEER, EU ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND THE INTERNAL MARKET (2014).
GARCIA MARIN-DURAN & ELISA MORGERA, ENVIRONMENTAL INTEGRATION IN THE EU’S EXTERNAL RELATIONS (2012).
SADELEER, supra note, at 3.
Nicolas de Sadeleer, Enforcing EUCHR Principles and Fundamental Rights in Environmental Cases, 81 NORDIC J. INT’L L. 39 (2012).
For a comprehensive understanding of the EU case law on environment and trade disputes, see Nicolas de Sadleer, Trade v. Environment in EU Law, (2012), http://www.tradevenvironment.eu/documents-case-law/ (last visited Feb 20, 2015).
Articles 34 and 35 TFEU prohibit Member States to adopt quantitative restrictions or measures having an equivalent effect that are likely to impair the import or export of goods within the internal market. Concerning all “goods taken across a frontier for the purposes of commercial transactions […], whatever the nature of those transactions”. See Case C-324/93, Evans medical,  E.C.R. I-563, ¶ 20 (the concept of goods is interpreted broadly and can thus cover wildlife, chemicals, hazardous substances, etc).
However, rights are likely to stem from secondary law obligations, for instance regarding air pollution. See Case C-237/07, Dieter Janecek v. Freistaat Bayern,  E.C.R. I-6221; Case C-404/13 Client Earth v. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs  E.C.R. I-805, ¶ 22.
With respect to the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol that provides for a fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, the EU institutions have adopted Regulation (EU) No 511/2014 of the European Parliament and the Council of 16 April 2014 on compliance measures for users from the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization in the Union.
PATRICIA BIRNIE ET AL., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE ENVIRONMENT 214 (3rd ed., 2009).
Daniel Barnstow Magraw & Lisa D. Hawke, Sustainable Development, in THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 623 (Daniel Bodansy ed., 2008).
1994 CONST., art. 7bis (Belg.); Charter for the Environment, art.1 (France).
Magraw & Hawke, supra note 32, at 621.
Both for third countries and Member States that are a significant source of raw material for biofuel consumed within the EU, the Commission is called on to issue a report addressing the respect of land use rights and the implementation of various ILO conventions. See Council Directive 2009/30/EC, art. 7(b) (7),  O.J. (L. 140/88).
Case C-43/75 Gabrielle Defrenne v Société anonyme belge de navigation aérienne Sabena,  E.C.R. I-455, ¶ 12.
See Case C-438/05 Viking Line,  E.C.R. I-10779, ¶ 79; Case C-341/05, Laval un Partneri Ltd v Svenska  E.C.R. I-11767, ¶ 105; Case C-319/07, 3F v. Commission,  E.C.R. I-000, ¶ 58.
See the discussion below in section 6.
The somewhat confusing dividing line between sustainable development and traditional economic development is likely to impinge upon the choice of legal bases. By way of illustration, the Council granted a Community guarantee to the European Investment Bank against losses under loans and loan guarantees for projects outside the Community. In a case regarding the legal base of that Council decision, the Court of Justice held that the act at issue fostered the sustainable economic and social development of developing countries, notwithstanding the fact that other components of that act concerned economic, financial and technical cooperation with third countries other than developing countries. As a result, the Decision fell under Article 179 EC (Article 208, TFEU) as well as under Article 181a EC (Article 212 TFEU). See Case C-155/07, Parliament v. Council,  E.C.R. I-8103, ¶ 67.
Under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) project have to fulfil a sustainability test set out by the receiving State. In spite of their significant environmental impacts, large hydroelectric projects in China and India made up more than a quarter of all CDMs and accordingly were deemed to be sustainable. See, ALEXANDER VASSA, THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE CLEAN DEVELOPMENT MECHANISM: A LAW AND ECONOMIC ANALYSIS 142 (2012).
Case C-371/98, First Corporate Shipping,  E.C.R. I-9235, ¶ 54 (opinion of AG Léger).
Gerd Winter, A Fundament and Two Pillars, in SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL LAW 28 (Hans Christian Bugge & Chirstina Voigt eds., 2008).
Magraw & Hawke, supra note 32, at 620.
Nicoals de Sadeleer, Environmental Governance and the Legal Bases Conundrum, 31 Y.E.L. 1-29 (2012).
SADELEER, supra note 23, at 175-224.
Europe 2020: A Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, COM (2010) 2020 final (Mar. 3, 2010).
Mainstreaming sustainable development into EU policies: 2009 Review of the European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development, COM (2009) 0400 final (Jul. 24, 2009).
Decision No. 1386/2013/EU, 2013 O.J. (L 354/171).
SUE ARROWSMITH & PETER KUNZLIK, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES IN EC PROCUREMENT LAW (2009).
BRIAN JACK, AGRICULTURE AND EU ENVIRONMENTAL LAW (2009).
Suzanne Kingston, Integrating Environmental Protection and EU Competition Law: Why Competition Isn’t Special, 6 EUR. L.J. 781 (2010); SUZZANNE KINGSTON, GREENING EU COMPETITION LAW AND POLICY (2012).
SADELEER, supra note 23, at 175.
See Commission Regulation 2494/2000,  O.J. (L 288/6), art. 2(4). Needless to say that such a definition is extremely broad.
Council Directive 2000/60/EC, art. 1(b), 2000 O.J. (L327/1) (establishes a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.
Council Directive 2008/98/EC, art. 8(3), 2008 O.J. (L 312).
Council Directive 2009/28/EC, art.17, 2009 O.J. (L140/16).
Council Directive 2002/45/EC, 2002 O.J. (L 358).
See, NICOLAS DE SADELEER & C.-H. BORN, DROIT INTERNATIONAL ET DE L’UE DE LA BIODIVERSITÉ 684 (2004); Jill Wakefield, Fisheries: A Failure of Values 46 COMMON MKT. L. REV. 439, 440 (2009); Winter, supra note 43, at 28; Ludwig Krämer, Sustainable Development in EC Law, in SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL LAW 379-381 (Hans Christian Bugge & Chirstina Voigt eds., 2008).
TILL MARKUS, EUROPEAN FISHERIES LAW. FROM PROMOTION TO MANAGEMENT (2009).
Commission Regulation 1083/2006, Laying Down General Provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, The European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund, 2006 O.J. (L 210/25). See also Commission Regulation 1080/2006, European Regional Fund, 2006 O.J. (L 210), art. 4, 5(2) (d), 6(2)(b)(d), 9 and 10; Commission Regulation 1081/2006, European Social Fund, 2006 O.J. (L 210), art. 3(1) (b) (c); Commission Regulation 1084/2006, European Cohesion Fund, 2006 O.J. (L 210), art. 2(1).
European Regional Fund, supra note 61, art. 6(2) (b) & 10(1).
Krämer, supra note 59, at 392; Winter, supra note 43, at 28.
Krämer, supra note 59, at 392.
Case C-91/05, Commission v. Council,  E.C.R. I-3651, ¶ 98.
Council Directive 79/409/EEC, 1979 O.J. (L 103) replaced by Council Directive 2009/147/EC, 2010 O.J. (L 20/7).
Case C-371/98, First Corporate Shipping  E.C.R. I-9235, ¶ 54.
F.H. Kistenkas, Rethinking European Nature Conservation Legislation: Towards Sustainable Development, 10 J.Eur.Env.Plan.L. 75 (2013).
Case C-43/10, Nomarchiaki Aftodioikisi Aitoloakarnanias  O.J. C-355/2, ¶ 134–9.
Case C-538/09, Commission v Belgium  O.J. C211/5, ¶ 53.
NICOLAS DE SADELEER, ENVIRONMENTAL PRINCIPLES (2005).
LUDWIG KRÄMER, EUROPEAN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 10 (6th ed., 2007).
One of the legislative initiatives that the Commission wishes to delay concerns the circular economy, the aim of which being to turn waste into valuable secondary raw materials. In a nutshell, the circular economy proposal is designed to increase recycling thresholds for a broad range of wastes. Expected benefits include the decoupling EU’s faltering economic growth from its dependency on natural resources imported from third countries, boosting growth and jobs creation, and improving the state of the environment. The existing proposal is to be withdrawn because it is claimed there is “no foreseeable agreement” between member states and the European Parliament, and that the new Commission could do better. The Commission wants to replace it with new proposals next year. The second proposal on the danger list concerns national reduction commitments for reducing air pollutants, including Nox and fine particulates, and directly relates to new international commitments adopted under the 2012 Goteborg Protocol agreed under the framework of the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-Range Air Pollution, despite the fact that it has already been negotiated for three years. The Commission now wants to block this proposal in order to take the opportunity to merge it better with long expected legislative proposals on the 2030 climate and energy package.
OECD, ENVIRONMENTAL OUTLOOK TO 2050: THE CONSEQUENCES OF INACTION (2012).
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de Sadeleer, N. Sustainable development in EU law: still a long way to go. Jindal Global Law Review 6, 39–60 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-015-0009-0
- EU legal order
- Hierarchy of core values
- Principle of integration
- EU case law