* Airport seeking to build a third runway
* Supported by economy ministry, but blocked by court
* Airport says ban ignores fundamental rights, EU law (Adds detail, board member, minister)
By Kirsti Knolle
VIENNA, March 23 (Reuters) - Vienna Airport appealed on Thursday to Austria’s highest courts to annul a ruling that blocked its planned expansion for environmental reasons, arguing the decision ignored constitutionally guaranteed rights and EU law.
An Austrian administrative court blocked the construction of a third runway at Vienna’s airport last month, saying it would run counter to the country’s pledge to the Paris climate agreement.
The ruling, which law experts see as trend-setting for other major infrastructure projects in Europe, attracted criticism from politicians and business people but also praise from environmentalists.
One basis for the appeal was the violation of essential rights such as freedom of ownership, freedom to carry on a business and the principle of equality, the airport said.
“The court also fails to understand that obligations arising from international climate protection agreements relate to individual countries and the EU Commission and cannot be directly applied to individual projects,” Julian Jaeger, a member of Vienna Airport’s management board, told a news conference in Vienna.
Climate considerations make up part of the approval process for many major infrastructure projects, especially since nearly 200 countries agreed to fight global warming in Paris in 2015.
Aviation has been in the spotlight as the sector accounts for about 3 percent of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The construction of a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport was only approved after the operator provided an environmental package, and a German court slapped a night flight ban on Frankfurt airport after a fourth runway started being used.
In Austria, the administrative court argued the positive aspects of the third runway, such as the creation of 30,000 new jobs, could not justify the extra carbon dioxide pollution.
Vienna Airport, which is currently able to handle up to 35 million passengers per year and served 23 million in 2016, says the runway is needed to serve an increasing number of passengers and ensure Austrian businesses’ and its own competitiveness.
Austria’s Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner supports the airport and suggested on Wednesday establishing a constitutional commitment to safeguarding and expanding Austria as a business location. (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by David Clarke and Mark Potter)