Parliament has paved the way for Switzerland to join the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement laying down basic rules to promote the involvement of citizens in environmental matters and to improve the enforcement of environmental law.
The Senate on Thursday came out in favour of ratifying the accord, despite opposition by critics who warned of interference by foreign judges and non-governmental organisations as well as excessive bureaucracy.
The other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, had approved the convention in March.
The international agreement provides for public access to information on the state of the environment, human health and safety. It enshrines the right of the general public to participate in decision-making in environmental matters and to appeal in court against infringement of environmental laws.
The Swiss government had signed the convention in 1998, but it took the cabinet more than ten years to present its proposals for the necessary amendments of Swiss law to parliament.
Agreed in the Danish city of Aarhus in 1998, the convention came into force three years later.
It has since been ratified by at least 46 signatories, mainly countries in Europe and central Asia.
The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (better known as Aarhus Convention) is an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.end of infobox
Supporters in the Senate argued Switzerland, a country with high environmental standards, stood to dent its international credibility if it refused to agree to the convention.
Only minor changes to Swiss law were in fact necessary as a result of the ratification, said environmental committee speaker Raphaël Comte.
A minority criticised there was no need for additional regulations.
Environment Minister Doris Leuthard made a passionate plea for the convention as it helped create a level playing field.
“Small countries only stand a chance if there are multinational rules,” she said.
It was the second time this year that the issue was tabled in the Senate. In June it sent the bill back to a preparatory committee amid concerns that environmental groups could block procedures.