The federal authorities apply the "Participation in decision-making" pillar of the Aarhus Convention by allowing citizens to participate in the drafting of:
- environmental plans and programmes
- specific projects and activities that have an impact on the environment
How can Belgium take a hard line against global warming? What about the siting of wind farms along the Belgian coast? Or the cultivation and sale of genetically modified organisms? The government wants to find out what you think about these and many other subjects and, with this in mind, it organises regular participation, also referred to as public participation.
By organising participation, the government is seeking to persuade citizens to express their opinion. Such efforts are generally more successful for local projects, such as creating a road or the development of land, than for projects which are further removed from people’s everyday living environment, such as a plan involving the ozone or biodiversity. It is up to the public authority to make even these types of complex and somewhat abstract issues accessible to the general public, by presenting them clearly and comprehensibly.
Public opinion can bring to light some original lines of approach for consideration in the debate, or open up entirely new prospects. Participation requires an effort on the part of both the government and the population, but is most definitely worth it!
Citizen participation is regulated at international level by the Aarhus Convention and at European level by two directives:
This Directive relates to plans and programmes with a potentially negative impact on the environment and therefore mainly concerns polluting sectors such as energy (e.g. the production, storage and transport of gas and electricity), nuclear activities and mobility.
The directive requires that the environmental effects of such plans and programmes be identified and assessed during the preparatory and implementation phases. This entails drawing up an environmental report on the effects of the draft plan or programme on the environment.
- Directive 2003/35/EC concerns plans and programmes with the primary aim of protecting the environment, such as the Belgian national biodiversity strategy.
The directive deals with the measures for public participation when drafting certain environmental plans and programmes, except for the plans and programmes covered by the SEA directive. For plans and programmes covered by the SEA directive and requiring a strategic environmental assessment (see above), no additional public consultation is necessary, because it is already incorporated in the SEA procedure.
This directive also stipulates measures for participation when granting permits for special projects. In this respect, it thus amends Directive 85/337/EEC, as amended by Directive 97/11/EC, on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, and Directive 96/61/EC concerning integrated pollution prevention and control (better known as the IPPC directive).
This has taken place via the Federal Law of 13 February 2006 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment and public participation in the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment. This law transposes the two directives and therefore advocates a homogeneous system of public participation for federal plans and programmes: both for those covered by Directive 2001/42/EC and those governed by Directive 2003/35/EC.