Schiopu and Verzescu v. Romania

Submitted by John Knox on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 00:00
Regional Decisions
European Court

The applicants owned land in the town of Ramnicu-Valcea that was expropriated by the communist regime.  When it was returned to the applicants in the 1990s, the land had ten leaking oil tanks.  The applicants asked a Romanian court to order the removal of the tanks at the expense of the town, but their request was denied.  They then argued to the European Court of Human Rights that the oil tanks prevented them from using their property and diminished its value in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention and Article 1 of the Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

The Court stated that while "severe environmental pollution may affect individuals' well-being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely without, however, seriously endangering their health," to show that pollution has adversely affected one of the rights safeguarded by Article 8, it is necessary to provide "evidence of a harmful effect on a person's private or family sphere and not simply the general deterioration of the environment."  The Court emphasized that "Neither Article 8 nor any of the other Articles of the Convention is specifically designed to provide for general protection of the environment as such."  In this case, the Court held that the applicants had not shown that the damage to their land directly impinged on their own rights under Article 8, since they were not using the land in question.

Under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, which provides that "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions," the Court reiterated that any interference with this right "must strike a 'fair balance' between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual's fundamental rights.  In particular, there must be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought. . . . [T]he Court must, therefore, ascertain whether by reason of the State's action or inaction the person concerned had to bear a disproportionate and excessive burden."  For several reasons, including that the oil tanks occupy a relatively small part of the property, the Court held that the refusal of the Romanian court to order the removal of the tanks did not impose a disproportionate and excessive burden on the applicants.