- Extension of the list of EU-wide environmental crimes
- Imprisonment to be accompanied by fines and focus on remedial measures
- Governments to protect people reporting crimes
- Environmental crimes considered as lucrative as drug trafficking
The Legal Affairs Committee adopted its position on an update of EU rules on environmental crimes, calling for new offences and harsher sanctions for offenders.
With 22 votes MEPs of the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) unanimously agreed to add new offences to the list of environmental crimes punishable at the EU level. The updated list would now include the illegal timber trade, illegal depletion of water resources, pollution caused by ships, breaches of EU chemicals legislation, cultivation of genetically modified organisms, conduct causing forest fire, and infringements contributing to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Sanctions for individuals and companies
MEPs want offences leading to death or harm to health and substantial environmental damage to be punishable by at least 10 years imprisonment, with others incurring four or six years depending on their extent, seriousness and duration. They also toughened fines for environmental crimes committed by companies, with MEPs proposing fines of at least 10% of the average worldwide turnover of a business in the three previous business years, instead of the Commission’s original proposal of 5%.
Companies should not only face criminal proceedings but also other measures such as bans from access to public funding or withdrawal of licences. In line with the “polluter pays principle”, offending businesses should work to restore the damaged environment, compensate victims and bear all the costs of court proceedings. MEPs also adjusted statute limitation periods for criminal offences to start at the point of their discovery rather than when it took place.
Improved cooperation and regular assessment
They urge EU countries to allow anonymous reporting of environmental offences and protection for those reporting them. Member states should strengthen cross-border cooperation, including with EU bodies such as Eurojust, OLAF, Europol and EPPO.
MEPs want the Commission to report on the implementation of the directive every two years and evaluate the need to update the list of environmental crimes.
Following the vote, rapporteur Antonius Manders (EPP, NL) said: “The damage caused by environmental crime has a deep impact on human health and the health of our planet. It is crucial that we fight these cross-border crimes at the EU level with dissuasive and effective sanctions: the polluter pays. Also key in this directive is investment in preventive measures and enforcement by providing specialised training to judges, prosecutors, police and judicial staff. There can be no more excuses when it comes to environmental crime.”
In December 2021, the Commission adopted its proposal to update the EU directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law, due to rising number of environmental criminal offences. It aims to provide a harmonized framework to fight against environmental crime, currently considered “the fourth largest criminal sector in the world as lucrative as drug trafficking.”
Once the mandate will be confirmed by Parliament as a whole, the report will become MEPs’ position for the negotiations with the member states on the final text of the legislation.