On Thursday, the EU Parliament, the Commission, and the Council reached a political agreement on the revision of the Environmental Crime Directive.
The EEB welcomes the agreement – which will see many more instances of environmental misconduct classified as crimes – as a huge step forward for environmental protection. Ultimately, however, the EEB recognises that, measured against the biggest European environmental crime in recent history – the “Dieselgate” emissions scandal – the new law would fail to prevent, dissuade and adequately sanction the crime.
The agreement comes two years after the European Commission proposed to revise the 2008 directive, which was widely criticised as being inadequate. Months of discussion in the Parliament saw productive collaboration among the political groups resulting in a progressive negotiation mandate which received unanimous support across all groups. But the initial ambition of Commission and Parliament was greatly diluted during trilogues, due to the reluctance of some large Member States to update their outdated legal traditions and upset the status quo.
Despite significant shortcomings, the latest proposal must be celebrated as a milestone in efforts to preserve the environment, with the following main improvements on the 2008 text:
A much more comprehensive list of environmental offences to be criminalised in all Member States.
More tools for national prosecutors through legal guidance and national strategies.
While there is no explicit reference to ecocide, recognition of a “qualified offence” for the most serious environmental crimes that cause widespread and substantial damage to the environment.
Nevertheless, the agreement falls short on several points. The text does not oblige Member States to put in place well-resourced enforcement chains to investigate, prosecute and sanction environmental crime and it ignores the sensitive topic of illegal fishing. Moreover, the agreement fails to hold companies to account. Leaving the massive national differences in sanctioning regimes in place and mandating minimum fines at half the level of guidance for competition law infringement. The signal is clear: The EU finally recognises environmental crime as a major issue but is not willing to scare businesses by threatening real consequences.
Frederik Hafen, Senior Policy Officer for Environmental Law at the European Environmental Bureau:
“Hopes were high that the European Parliament could convince Member States to create strong sanctioning and enforcement standards which hit criminals where it hurts. While overall a great step forward, the law still lacks teeth. If we think of the biggest environmental crime in Europe in recent years, the Dieselgate scandal, we have to conclude that if it were to happen under the new Directive, we would likely not see any more corporate leaders held accountable and not a cent more in terms of criminal fines.”
Patrick ten Brink, Secretary General at the European Environmental Bureau:
“We are pleased to see this important piece of legislation updated after 15 years even if it is still not enough to fight the increase of environmental crime in Europe. We will keep a watchful eye on the implementation of these provisions in each Member State. Only with enough national resources can environmental crime be effectively investigated, prosecuted, and sanctioned.”