European Court of Justice rules on Salzburg airport case needing EIA due to environmental effect
In 2003 the operators of Salzburg Airport, Salzburger Flughafen, applied for apermission to build an additional terminal. Its application was granted and that project was completed without any environmental assessment. In 2004, the airport applied to further expand the airport area.This has been referred to the European Court of Justice, which has now ruled that both the construction of a new terminal and the expansion of the airport should have undergone an environmental impact assessment since they were likely to have significant effects on the environment. The ECJ ruled that not having the EIAs contravenes EU rules. In contrast, the Austrian legislation requires EIAs on proposed a modification to airports only if it will increase traffic by at least 20,000 flights per year. The ruling will have major ramifications for projects across the EU. Member states will no longer be able to place a quantitative size threshold to decide which projects need an EIA. Instead, the threshold must be based on the potential effect on the environment.
ECJ backs need for green impact assessments
European Union members states must conduct an environmental impact assessment for any project likely to have significant effects on the environment, the European Court of Justice ruled today (21 March). The Court was ruling on Austrian legislation, which requires green impact assessments on proposed modifications to airports only if the modification will increase traffic by at least 20,000 flights per year.
Salzburg Airport had taken the case to an Austrian court after the government had ruled retroactively that a modification made in 2002 should have required an impact assessment. The airport said that under Austrian law no assessment was needed. The ECJ ruled that this law contravenes EU rules.
The ruling will have major ramifications for projects across the EU. Member states will no longer be able to place a quantitative size threshold to decide which projects need an assessment. Instead, the threshold must be based on the potential effect on the environment.
Court of Justice rules green vetting mandatory for many projects
The Court of Justice of the European Union today ruled that “Member States are required to make all projects which could have significant effects on the environment subject to such an assessment.” In addition, it stated that the Austrian legislation is contrary to EU law, since in case of the modification of an airport, it requires an environmental assessment only for projects likely to increase the number of air traffic movements by at least 20.000 per year.
In 2002, the undertaking Salzburger Flughafen, which operates Salzburg airport, applied for a permit to build an additional terminal. Its application was granted and that project was completed without any environmental assessment.
In 2004, the undertaking made new applications to further expand the airport area.
Consequently, the Environmental Tribunal examined those projects and found that both the construction of a new terminal and the expansion of the airport should have undergone an environmental impact assessment since they were likely to have significant effects on the environment. Following the Environmental Tribunal’s decision, the Salzburger Flughafen made an appeal.
As a result, in today’s ruling, the Court of Justice states that Member States have the obligation to carry out an impact assessment on projects likely to have significant effects on the environment, regardless of their size.
In addition, it stresses that the Austrian legislation takes into consideration only the quantitative aspect of the consequences of a project, without taking account of the other selection criteria such as the population density of the area affected by the project.
Finally, the Court ruled that “when a Member State has established a threshold, as in the present case, which is likely to exempt entire classes of projects from an environmental assessment, the national authorities are obliged to ensure that it is determined, in each individual case, whether such an assessment must be undertaken and if so, to undertake that assessment.”
The European Commission ‘s webpage about Environmental Impact Assessments is at
The EIA Directive (85/337/EEC) is in force since 1985 and applies to a wide range of defined public and private projects, which are defined in Annexes I and II:
- Mandatory EIA: all projects listed in Annex I are considered as having significant effects on the environment and require an EIA (e.g. long-distance railway lines, motorways and express roads, airports with a basic runway length ≥ 2100 m, installations for the disposal of hazardous waste, installations for the disposal of non-hazardous waste > 100 tonnes/day, waste water treatment plants > 150.000 p.e.).
- Discretion of Member States (screening): for projects listed in Annex II, the national authorities have to decide whether an EIA is needed. This is done by the “screening procedure”, which determines the effects of projects on the basis of thresholds/criteria or a case by case examination. However, the national authorities must take into account the criteria laid down in Annex III. The projects listed in Annex II are in general those not included in Annex I (railways, roads waste disposal installations, waste water treatment plants), but also other types such as urban development projects, flood-relief works, changes of Annex I and II existing projects…).
- ….. and it continues.
[For airports, it states that EIAs are automatically required for:
“Construction of lines for long-distance railway traffic and of airports ( 1 ) with a basic runway length of 2 100 m or more;” ]