EU criminal law must pave way for better environmental protection, NGOs demand

Emily Parkin

Commission must fix EU criminal law and ensure environmental crimes such as wildlife trade, waste dumping, illegal hunting and fishing, unlawful logging and mining no longer go unpunished. 

Brussels, 13 December 2021 – Tomorrow, the European Commission is expected to publish a proposal for  the revision of the Environmental Crime Directive. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomes the initiative and demands stronger provisions to improve environmental protection through criminal law. The revision of the Directive was announced by the Commission in its 2021 Work Program. 

The Environmental Crime Directive from 2008 [1] sets minimum standards for the enforcement of European environmental law at national level. However, in practice the Directive has shown to be insufficient: Interpol [2] and Eurojust [3] have both recorded a major increase in Environmental crimes globally and in Europe.  

Evidence from EEB’s crime and punishment report [4], and the Commission’s own evaluation [5] shows the current text of the Environmental Crime Directive does little to prevent and dissuade many of the most lucrative environmental offences in the EU, nor does it help enforcement bodies to detect them. The evaluations of the current directive have shown that its definitions are too limited, imprecise, and impractical. 

To strengthen the Directive, close existing loopholes and ensure it delivers on its environmental protection promises, the EEB calls on the Commission to: 

  • Establish a strong liability regime and enforcement that ensures that environmental crime does not pay 
  • Help punish environmental crime by strengthening EU wide minimum guidelines on sanctions 
  • Strengthen criminal liability of companies 
  • Broaden the scope of the Directive and recognize an independent definition of environmental crime 
  • Recognise the crime of ‘ecocide” as defined by an independent expert panel for the use at the International Criminal Court 
  • Cover diffuse pollution and illegal extraction of groundwater 
  • Enable European wide collection of crime statistics 

Francesca Carlsson, Senior Legal Officer of the EEB said: 

The current Environmental Crime Directive has failed to set minimum criminalisation standards that prevent environmental crime from occurring in the EU. It’s time to establish unambiguous legal definitions, clear procedures for judicial cooperation to help enforcement, and stricter rules on individual and company liability, as well as truly dissuasive sanctions.” 

The current text limits criminal behaviour to acts that go against legislations specifically listed in its annex.  

On the upcoming revision of the Directive, Carlsson said: 

“The EU needs to send a clear signal that harming the environment does not pay and should be criminally sanctioned effectively in all Member States. The proposal tomorrow must address the shortcomings of the current Environmental Crime Directive. 

The EEB welcomes the move to revise the directive and looks forward to engaging productively with the Commission and the legislators on the revision of the Directive on Environmental Protection through Criminal Law. Following the publication on Tuesday, the revision proposal will be in the hands of the European Parliament and the Council. 

ENDS

 

Notes to the editor

[1] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32008L0099

[2] INTERPOL-UN Environment (2016). Strategic Report: Environment, Peace and Security – A Convergence of Threats. Available at www.interpol.int and www.unep.org

[3] https://www.eurojust.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2021-01/report_environmental_crime.pdf

[4]  https://eeb.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Crime-and-punishment-March-2020.pdf

[5]  https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/evaluation_-_swd2020259_-_part_1_0.pdf

 

EU criminal law must pave way for better environmental protection, NGOs demand

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