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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

The Aarhus Convention and the Diffusion of Environmental Rights

Lisa Vanhala
University College London
Lisa Vanhala
University College London

Much of the political science literature on NGOs is split between two different understandings of their role in political processes and their relationship with governance authorities. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who see NGOs as instrumental; they enhance the ability of states or other political institutions to regulate globally. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see NGOs as part of the rise of robust global civil society agents pursuing their own independent agendas based on values, norms, ideologies or collective identities. This paper queries the instrumental perspective by relying on a case study of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. It asks: why did European states and the European Community (EC) sign and ratify a Convention that significantly and specifically enhances the power of NGOs vis-à-vis these political authorities in environmental regulatory processes? First, by unpacking the motivations of Western European political actors in the development and negotiation phase of the Aarhus Convention this paper shows how the goal of diffusing democratic norms in Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) was a priority for Western European states. Second, this paper argues that these states underestimated the potential impact of the Aarhus Convention “back home”. Domestic NGOs within Western European states have harnessed the provisions of the Aarhus Convention in litigation efforts. In doing so they have begun to significantly shape the structure of opportunities for contesting and overturning decisions of the state in environmental policy.
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