Sunday

19th Nov 2017

EU prepares environmental crime law after Africa tragedy

  • The Probo Koala was chartered by one of the world's leading commodities traders, Dutch-based Trafigura Beheer (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Pressure is mounting on the EU to criminalise violations of environmental laws as MEPs on Wednesday (25 October) voiced outrage over a recent incident in which EU toxic waste killed people on the Ivory Coast.

Twelve people died this summer in the neighbourhood of Abidjan and up to 85,000 needed medical treatment, the UN says, after a 50,000 tonne tanker, the Probo Koala, discharged 528 cubic metres of "chemical slops" in the region.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Netherlands-based commodities trader Trafigura had chartered the Greek-owned ship to carry gasoline from Estonia to Nigeria in a routine operation which ended in the tragedy and the arrest of two Trafigura staff in Abidjan.

"The tragic incident in the Ivory Coast is just the tip of the iceberg," EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said in Strasbourg ahead of a vote on Thursday on a parliamentary resolution saying the EU must close loopholes in environmental law.

The commissioner explained that 51 percent of EU waste shipments in 2005 were found to be illegal, with Brussels set to table new legislation by the end of the year on criminal penalties for illegal shipment of waste.

"[Environmental crimes] can pose a serious risk to the environment and human health," the Greek commissioner said. "And we are determined to take all measures to fight it."

"Africa is becoming the toxic dumping ground for developed countries," Danish green MEP Margrete Auken said in Wednesday's debate.

"The absence of regulations in most African countries on hazardous waste…makes it all the more important that the European Commission ensures its own waste shipment rules are properly enforced."

Swedish green MEP Carl Schlyter added "There must be a thorough investigation and the commission must take legal action against any member state found to have contravened the waste shipment regulation."

Trafigura mounts defence

Meanwhile, the Dutch company at the heart of the scandal - Trafigura - is fighting to clear its name and to get its two executives, Claude Dauphin and Jean-Pierre Valentini, out of jail in Africa.

The firm says the slops were pumped in Abidjan on 20 August from the Probo Koala into road-going tankers owned by "a government-certified company...under the routine supervision" of port authorities.

"The slops did not contain active hydrogen sulphide as has also been alleged," the firm said in a statement, explaining that the deadly mixture consisted of spent caustic soda, gasoline residues and water.

"What happened to the slops after they were offloaded from the ship, and the circumstances of the deaths and injuries which have been linked with them, are matters for the Ivorian investigations."

EU law

At the moment, national governments have no obligation to take breaches of EU environment law seriously - something which has deeply frustrated the commission, which prides itself on the high environmental standards it is trying to achieve for the bloc.

Several member states, including Germany, France and the UK, opposed the commission in 2001 when it originally proposed that certain breaches of environment law be deemed criminal offences.

But a decision in the European Court of Justice last year overruled the member states, boosting the commission's powers by giving it the right to tell EU capitals to impose criminal sanctions for offences against EU law.

Mindful of the hostile reaction likely in some member states, the commission insists that it does not want to create a community criminal code and says it shall only use such legislation for "serious" offences.

The new proposal mentioned by Mr Dimas will fall under the co-decision procedure giving both parliament and member states a voice in the bill.

EU toxic trail under scrutiny after African catastrophe

The arrival of a European ship containing mysterious yet lethal cargo has caused mass illness as well as death in the the Ivory Coast of West Africa, and put Europe's toxic waste trail under scrutiny.

Agenda

EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK

EU ministers will vote on where to relocate two EU agencies from the UK, while later EU leaders will host six eastern European countries in Brussels. Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic awaits his verdict in the Hague.

Opinion

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse