The court asked the ECJ to provide a preliminary ruling on a matter concerning the interpretation of the European Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment as amended (the EIA Directive).

The reference was made in the course of proceedings between Ecologistas en Acción-CODA, an alliance of more than 300 environmental groups, and the Municipality of Madrid concerning the approval, by the Municipality, of various projects forming part of the refurbishment and improvement of the Madrid urban ring road.

It was alleged that the Municipality had infringed national rules on environmental impact assessments by not subjecting a ring-road project to an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

In granting consent the Municipality had split the project into several independent sub projects.

When treated separately only one of the sub projects exceeded the threshold at which the national rules relating to environmental impact assessments applied. On the other hand, when considering the project as a whole, it substantially exceeded that threshold.

The Spanish Court, having regard to the implications of the scheme asked the ECJ whether, under the EIA Directive, the whole project should be subject to an EIA .

The Municipality contended that since urban roads were not mentioned in the Directive it was entitled to take the view that projects for their modification were not covered by the Directive and consequently did not require an EIA.

The ECJ refuted this stance stating that as the scope of the Directive was very wide it was contrary to its purpose to allow an urban ring road to fall outwith its scope solely on the grounds that the Directive does not expressly mention projects concerning that kind of road.

The ECJ held that that urban roads must be regarded as falling within the scope of the Directive, and that Member States must implement the Directive in a manner which fully corresponds to its requirements before any consent is given.

Accordingly, projects for the refurbishment and improvement of urban roads likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of their nature, size or location should be made subject to an assessment with regard to their effects.

Furthermore, the ECJ stated that the purpose of the Directive could not be circumvented by splitting up projects and the failure to take account of the cumulative effect of several projects must not mean that they escape the obligation to carry out an assessment when taken together they are likely to have significant effects on the environment

The ruling of the ECJ in case C-142/07 can be found here.

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