Nieuwsbericht | 08-02-2007
Brussels, 9 February 2007
Commission strengthens environmental protection through criminal law, abolishing "safe havens" of environmental crime The European Commission today proposed a directive that obliges Member States to treat serious offences against the environment as criminal acts and to ensure that they are effectively sanctioned. It also sets minimum sanctions for environmental crimes across the Member States. Offences such as the illegal emission of hazardous substances into the air, water or soil, the illegal shipment of waste, or the illegal trade in endangered species can have devastating effects on human health and the environment. They also undermine the efficiency of EU environment legislation. It is therefore crucial to ensure that they are effectively sanctioned throughout the European Union. In serious cases criminal sanctions such as prison sentences should be applied, as they have a much higher dissuasive effect than, for example, administrative sanctions.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The recent hazardous waste disaster in the Ivory Coast shows how environmental crimes can have devastating effects on people and the environment. It also underlines once again how urgent it is to improve the way environmental legislation is enforced in order to avoid such incidents".
Franco Frattini, the Commission's Vice-President responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, said: "The proposed directive is crucial to avoid criminals profiting from the existing discrepancies in Member States' criminal law systems which damage the European environment. We cannot allow safe-havens of environmental crime inside the EU".
Key elements of the proposal
The definition of environmental crimes varies greatly from one Member State to another and in many Member States; the levels of sanctions are inadequate. The proposed directive aims to ensure a minimum level of protection of the environment under criminal law throughout the European Union.
Member States will be required to ensure that a range of activities (e.g. illegal shipment of waste and unlawful trade in endangered species or in ozone-depleting substances) already prohibited by EU or national legislation are considered criminal offences, when committed intentionally or with serious negligence. Member states have to ensure that particularly serious environmental crimes are punishable by a maximum of at least 5 years imprisonment and fines for companies of at least €750 000 . These cases would include crimes that have resulted in death or serious injury of a person or a substantial damage to air, soil, water, animals or plants or when the offence has been committed by a criminal organisation.
In addition, the directive foresees supplementary or alternative sanctions, such as the obligation to clean up/reinstate the environment or the possibility of stopping businesses from operating.
The proposed measures will ensure that criminals cannot exploit the significant differences which currently exist between the Member States. Safe-havens for environmental crime should therefore no longer exist within the European Union.
In September 2005, the European Court of Justice confirmed that the Community had the competence to adopt criminal law measures for the protection of the environment if necessary to ensure the efficient implementation of its environmental policy. For this reason it annulled the Framework Decision on environmental crime adopted in 2003 by the Council on the basis of a Member State initiative based on the provisions for judicial cooperation in criminal matters contained in the EU Treaty (Title VI, so called 3rd pillar). The proposal presented today by the Commission therefore is aimed to replace both the Council's Framework Decision of 2003 and a proposal for a directive already presented by the Commission in 2001, which was not taken into account by the Council when adopting the 2003 Framework Decision.
See also Memo/07/50 For more information on environmental crime: