The first update and review of Austria's national water management planning instrument has revealed that the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive will be achieved neither to their full extent nor in a timely manner. Nonetheless, the National Water Management Plan 2015 is a useful and comprehensive document that contains extensive information for all stakeholders and sets out the next steps to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring Austria's water bodies.
The Constitutional Court recently reached a landmark decision and overturned the Federal Administrative Court decision which had rejected the permit for a third runway at Vienna International Airport on the grounds of climate protection and land use. This decision is significant in that it has far-reaching consequences for many other projects beyond the scope of the third runway. It is also relevant to Austria as a business hub.
The Federal Administrative Court recently confirmed that neighbours in earlier cases can enforce an environmental impact assessment only in subsequent approval proceedings. Further, the court has clarified that neighbours do not have party status in declaratory decision proceedings. As the legislature had failed to regulate earlier cases, this decision is a valuable contribution to procedural law.
The European Court of Justice recently ruled that the exclusion of neighbours from challenges to declaratory decisions relating to environmental impact assessments (EIAs) is incompatible with EU law. Following this decision, the Federal Administrative Court has recently held that neighbours can now enforce an EIA in subsequent approval proceedings. Further, neighbours can now appeal against negative declaratory decisions.
Austria recently implemented two federal laws in order to implement EU Directive 2015/41/EC, which provides member states with the possibility of restricting and prohibiting the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territories. Austria's federal legislature has also enacted a framework law on genetic engineering, which highlights the broad political consensus in favour of prohibiting the cultivation of GMOs in Austria.
Despite Austria's more stringent Water Law, the European Court of Justice's interpretation of the 'no deterioration' clause will likely further restrict the permissibility of projects that may affect the ecological or chemical status of bodies of surface water or groundwater. Assessment efforts during the preparation of projects and approval procedures will significantly increase – in particular, with regard to the question of whether a better environmental option exists.
The third pillar of the Aarhus Convention establishes a general right to bring a case before the courts if national environmental regulations might be subject to contravention. However, the implementation of the third pillar has caused controversy, and in July 2014 the European Commission initiated proceedings against Austria for non-compliance. As the European Union has provided no precise instructions for implementation, this suit is questionable.
Following European Commission proceedings against Austria for breaching EU law by failing to implement the EU Data Retention Directive, and a related European Court of Justice ruling against Austria, the government has now decided to implement the directive. The draft legislation implements the minimum requirements set out by the directive by providing for a retention period of only six months.
In early 2010 substantial revisions to the Data Protection Act entered into force. Among other things, the revised act introduced to the data protection regime a notification duty requiring every data controller in Austria to inform data subjects accordingly should they become aware of systematic and seriously unlawful misuses of personal data.