Sustainable Development and Environmental Legal Protection in the European Union: A Model for Mexican Courts to Follow?

Luis A. Avilés

Abstract

Over the past several decades, sustainable development as a paradigm for balanced development has made its way into the constitutional regimes of many nations. The justiciability of sustainable development, however —particularly in the context of environmental legal protection— remains problematic for many legal systems, including Mexico. This article traces the evolution of sustainable development within an international context; analyzes its influence on treaties that led to the European Union; and evaluates the use of environmental protection by the European Union’s Court of Justice (referred to hereinafter as “ECJ”). An analysis of the interplay of the concept of sustainable development in the primary and secondary legislation of the European Union as interpreted by the ECJ leads us to the following conclusion: regarding the legal protection of the environment in the European Union, sustainable development may be viewed as a general principle of law that articulates a series of sub-principles contained in the treaties. These sub-principles include the precautionary principle and the “polluter-pays” principle. We also conclude that the unsystematic use of these sub-principles in the secondary legislation of the European Union weakens the ECJ’s coherent handling of the concept in its decisions. This article also suggests that Mexican judges would be well advised to carefully study sustainable development as employed by the ECJ in cases involving constitutional and international collective environmental claims which may arise under the recent amendments to the Amparo Law.

Keywords

Sustainable development; environmental protection; justiciability; European Union; Mexico; Amparo; general principle of law

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