Different documents provide an international framework for a legal basis on public participation. This framework may act as a starting point for legislation on an international, national and regional level.
The two main documents in this respect are:
Specific articles in Aarhus conventions
Public participation in concrete decisions at a level of the projects is adjusted by article 6 of the Aarhus convention, and also to some extends by articles 7 and 8 on problems of the most important solutions of government (policy, laws and decrees).
Article 6 of the Aarhus convention contains in-depth positions about public participation on concrete types of activity ". The positions about public hearings or comments on separate cases of issue of the sanctions already for a long time are accepted in Europe; therefore for majority of countries their acceptance has not made a problem. As is explained in a Manual to implementation of Aarhus convention, these situations include "solutions concerning spatial planning, sanction to economic activity both sanctions to construction and operation ", and also "the sanctions to use of water or other natural resources, and also permissions on pollutant emissions to water, air or soil".
Compared to that, article 7 of the Aarhus convention about environmental plans, programs and policy does not contain detailed remedial requests. In the article it is stated, that each party accepts "appropriate" positions for public participation during preparation of the plans and programs, and some details are foreseen. Concerning "policy", article 7 only states that Parties "whenever possible" only "try to provide possibilities for public to take part in making decisions". But at least it is foreseen.
Article 8 concerns public participation in development of legislative acts and norms having a direct executive force and generally applicable legally of the mandatory normative acts. It differs from article 7 concerning policy, but less directive than article 7 concerning plans and programs. In article 8 it is stated, that each Party "makes an effort" for assistance to effective public participation at appropriate stages in preparation of the decrees and laws, while there are open possibilities for choice ". It concludes, that "the temporary frameworks for "effective" public participation should be fixed, that the projects of norms should be accessible for a public, that the public should have a possibility to make comments, and that the outcome of public participation should be considered at least, to the greatest possible degree ".
Manual for implementation
The manual to implementation of the Aarhus convention distincts a number of important matters:
- The significant part of functions of state organs consists of development of concrete solutions based on the concrete facts and circumstances;
- Another significant part of these functions consists of the development and realization in life of the generally applicable rules. Here the term "rule" is used in the most broad sense and can include decrees, instructions, normative orders, standards and rules;
- It also includes participation of state organs in legislative processes up to a moment of transfer of the projects, developed by the executive authority, to legislative organs;
- Article 8 foresees public participation in the development of such rules and installs certain requests, which should be executed by the parties in order to reach the objectives.
Strategic Environmental Assessment
Countries signing the Convention decided to develop a "Strategic Environmental Assessment" (SEA). The SEA is an evaluation of the impact of (strategic) governmental decisions at a high level to the environment. It is thus not only related to decisions concerning individual projects, but it aims to provide a larger framework for action.
At an EU Level Environmental assessment is regulated by the Directive 85/337/EEC, as amended (known as 'Environmental Impact Assessment' – EIA Directive) as to individual projects (e.g. a dam, motorway, airport or factory) of by the of Directive 2001/42/EC (known as 'Strategic Environmental Assessment' – SEA Directive), when related to public plans or programmes.