Access to Information and public participation

The European Union, of which the Netherlands is a member, has a directive on Public access to information on the environment. This law compels the member governments to provide sufficient information to the general public.

Article 1 and 2 of the Aarhus convention states:
"The object of this Directive is to ensure freedom of access to and dissemination of information on the environment held by the public authorities and to set out the basic terms and conditions on which such information should be made available."

Access to information is the key to public participation. In The Netherlands, openness is the rule rather than exception. This implies that whomsoever wishes to engage in an activity has to take the initiative to give sufficient and relevant information.

The Law on Public Nature of Administration and the General Law on Administration (Algemene wet bestuursrecht) (Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur) are the most important ones. Both documents make provisions for the people to be informed before decisions are taken by local, regional and national governments. The General Law on Administration obliges the governments to publish drafts of decisions that are capable of affecting the environment. After the publication of a draft decision the government is obliged to display its draft decision during four weeks. During this period everybody has the possibility to give his view. Then the government takes its final decision in which it has to consider the public input. The final decision has to be published and displayed during six weeks. During this period of six weeks the ones that gave their view have the possibility to appeal to an administrative court of justice, during. For decisions on large infrastructure plans, the local spatial plans of municipalities and decisions on requests for environmental permits procedures this procedure has to be followed.

Processing of Public Complaints
A government is obligated to process the views given by the public in the procedure of the General Law on Administration and to motivate strongly why it disagrees or agrees with these views. When a somebody that has given his view is not satisfied with the arguments of the municipalities, he can appeal to an administrative court (Administration Law Department of the Council of State for environmental decisions and a local administrative court for spatial decisions).