23rd Mar 2017

Brussels seeks powers to put polluters in jail

  • Brussels lists a set of offences such as unlawful treatment of waste to be considered criminal in the EU (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is ready to move into national governments' criminal law, proposing to harmonise what constitutes serious environmental crimes and what the minimum level of penalties should be across the EU.

The draft paper – to be introduced on Thursday (8 February) and seen by EUobserver – calls for "more dissuasive sanctions for environmentally harmful activities, which typically cause or are likely to cause substantial damage to the air, soil, water, animals or plants".

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Brussels lists nine sets of offences, such as unlawful treatment of waste or unlawful possession of protected wild plants and animals, that should be considered criminal throughout Europe, with possible punishment ranging from one to ten years' imprisonment.

The paper also states when and to what extent companies could be held liable for environmental offences, with fines between €300,000 and €1.5 million being suggested.

It is the second time in the EU's legal history that Brussels proposes that national governments will no longer have the full sovereign right to decide what constitutes a crime and what the punishment should be.

The first precedent dates back to May 2006 when common rules on counterfeiting were tabled by Brussels' executive body.

Brussels' move into criminal matters was triggered by a landmark ruling on environmental crimes by the European Court of Justice in September 2005, which gave Brussels power to introduce harmonized criminal laws across the EU.

The court stated that it is up to the Commission to decide on penal measures in order to make community legislation effective.

"The court strengthened the possibilities to enforce the law, once member states have agreed on a European policy. This is a watershed decision", commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said in reaction to the September ruling.

By contrast, many EU members vigorously oppose any intrusion into criminal law by the commission, arguing that criminal sanctions should be a national matter only.

In this week's piece of legislation, to be introduced by commissioners Franco Frattini (justice and home affairs) and Stavros Dimas (environment), the European Commission argues that environment protection should be adressed through action at EU level.

"Environmental crime usually has cross-border implications, as it often involves trans-boundary activities and often has transboundary effects such as the resulting pollution of the environment", the paper states.

No action or non-binding initiatives by Brussels "would not tackle the problem effectively because perpetrators can easily benefit from the existing differences in national legislation," according to the document.

EU ministers to tackle German data-sharing proposals

EU justice and interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday are set for lengthy talks with three highly controversial issues on their agenda - the transfer of prisoners between EU states, an overhaul of data-sharing rules and environmental crimes.


More hype than substance in EU counter-terror plans

The 22 March anniversary of the Brussels bombing will trigger a lot of soul searching. But EU counter-terrorism strategies over the past 10 years have been crisis-driven with little follow through or oversight.

LuxLeaks whistleblowers sentenced again

PwC employees Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, who revealed how multinational companies dodged taxes through deals in Luxembourg, were given reduced sentences.

EU lawmakers tighten firearm rules

The EU parliament backed a provisional deal with member states to tighten EU gun laws. EU states now have to formally adopt their position before the new legislation is enacted.

EU home to over 5,000 criminal groups

Europol says the figure is more a reflection of an improved intelligence picture rather than an absolute increase in the number of gangs.

News in Brief

  1. Russia invites EU diplomats to occupied Crimea
  2. UK parliament in lockdown after reported attack
  3. Brussels attacks remembered with minute of silence and noise
  4. Magnitsky's lawyer injured near Moscow
  5. Trump to travel to Brussels on 25 May for Nato summit
  6. Polish defence minister accuses Tusk of treason
  7. Fillon slips in polls as new allegations emerge
  8. Brexit summit for EU-27 will be on 29 April

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Advertisements
  2. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  3. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  4. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  6. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  7. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  8. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  10. Malta EU 2017Consumer Protection Laws to Be Strengthened by EU-Wide Cooperation
  11. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  12. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst

Latest News

  1. EU declaration to voice unity in troubled times
  2. Terror attack shuts down UK parliament
  3. Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe's geopolitical conundrum
  4. La présidentielle française sous cyber-alerte maximale
  5. EU doing well in global energy ranking
  6. Child migrants endure 'abysmal conditions'
  7. French socialist woos Europe with new vision
  8. EU to Macedonia: 'Stop playing with fire'