23rd Jun 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.

Border management going virtual

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels are set to endorse new border control measures, while the head of a Tallinn-based EU agency predicts a future where border management goes virtual.


EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.


Why Schengen deserves to be saved

Far-right parties around Europe have managed to turn the passport-free Schengen area into a game of political hot potato despite its numerous benefits.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit