The Justice Ministers of the EU’s Member States adopted today their position on the revision of the Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law, also known as the Environmental Crime Directive (ECD). Compared to what the European Commission had originally proposed, Ministers have watered down the penalty and sanction levels applicable when environmental crimes are committed, and stripped other crucial provisions from their substance. In doing so, Member States fail to demonstrate any resolve to effectively step up the fight against environmental crimes.
As it is, Member States’ position fails to appropriately address environmental crimes. First, several major environmental crime offences are still not covered by the Directive, notably illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and underwater noise pollution. More importantly, the maximum terms of imprisonment agreed by the Ministers are far too low to be dissuasive and significantly deter environmental crimes. Low penalties lead to lower prioritisation of the relevant crimes and to insufficient resources devoted to investigations and prosecutions.
“We are concerned about the low levels of ambition for the harmonisation of sanctions for companies. Environmental crime in Europe is steadily on the rise and small administrative fines have failed to stop this trend. Europe needs true criminal fines set at minimum levels of maximum sanctions of 15% of annual turnover for companies. Europe cannot afford another failed criminal law response like the one we have seen with the Dieselgate scandal,”
said Patrizia Heidegger, Deputy Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau
Finally, the EU Member States’ position also weakens important implementing provisions aimed at helping enforcement authorities in fighting against environmental crimes, in particular the removal of the need for all Member States to protect persons reporting offences or assisting in investigations.
“It is disappointing to see key elements, such as national strategies and data reporting, watered down by the Council. What is actually needed are stronger measures, in order to address the current chronic lack of implementation of the Directive and inconsistencies in national rules. Otherwise we risk the apparition of regional havens for environmental crime within the EU,”
said Elodie Cantaloube, EU Policy Officer at the Born Free Foundation.
“We also need effective tools to facilitate cross-border cooperation as most environmental crimes have a translational dimension. Specific provisions are also needed to ensure the appropriate management of frozen and confiscated assets such as wild live animals, as this isn’t addressed by any existing EU legislation,”
added Ilaria Di Silvestre, Head of EU Policy and Campaigns at IFAW.
Nonetheless, it is positive to see that Member States are proposing to more than double the list of offences set out under the previous Directive, and also recognise the need for resources, training, prevention, and improved coordination among relevant national authorities, among others.
The European Parliament must now adopt a progressive position, addressing the weaknesses of the Council position, including those mentioned above, and taking into consideration the opinion reports developed by Parliament Committees.
“MEPs cannot stand by and watch this directive be gutted of some of its fundamental provisions. Instead, they must send a clear message that environmental crime is serious, and that offenders must be sanctioned appropriately. Only if the European Parliament rectifies the shortcomings of the Council’s position can we hope for the adoption of a strong and effective Directive,”
said Audrey Chambaudet, Policy Officer, Wildlife Trade and Wildlife Crime at the WWF European Policy Office.
Notes to the editor
Environmental crimes are the third most lucrative crime category worldwide. The European Union is not immune to these crimes, and is a major hub for organised environmental crimes, such as wildlife crime or waste trafficking to name but two. Therefore, the revision of the ECD represents a unique opportunity for a strong and ambitious legal framework to prevent and penalise these crimes.
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