Tuesday

11th May 2021

EU court delivers blow on environment sanctions

  • 51 percent of EU waste shipments in 2005 found to be illegal (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission's hope of doling out specific criminal penalties for those who pollute the environment have been dealt a blow by the EU's highest court.

The European Court of Justice in a ruling on Tuesday (23 October) reiterated its landmark finding of two years ago that the commission can oblige member states to introduce common penalties for environmental pollution - in this case ship pollution - but closed the door to Brussels on one key issue.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It said that the commission may not determine what criminal sanctions should be introduced for different environment crimes in member states.

"(...) contrary to the submission of the Commission, the determination of the type and level of the criminal penalties to be applied does not fall within the Community's sphere of competence," reads the crucial paragraph.

Inside the environment department of the commission there is strong disappointment with the ruling.

An official explained that the ruling has profound implications for a controversial piece of legislation proposed by Brussels earlier this year under which certain environment crimes such as unlawful treatment of waste or unlawful possession of protected wild plants and animals should be treated as a criminal offence.

The punishment ranged from one to ten years in prison.

The proposal is currently going through the first stages of the Brussels legislative process with member states already objecting to the sanctions clause. Now with the court ruling, the official said that the proposal will probably proceed without the section on specific penalties.

"I would liken it to a cat that does not have its teeth and claws ... a paper tiger," said the official.

The law, proposed in February, came as a reaction to the outrage sparked last year when EU toxic waste dumped from a tanker killed people on the Ivory Coast.

At the time environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said that the Ivory Coast incident was just the "tip of the iceberg" with 51 percent of EU waste shipments in 2005 found to be illegal.

"Member states have very different ways of punishing environmental pollution," said the commission official, so things are done in the country "where there are least sanctions."

The other alternative for the commission is to "start all over again with the law" but this "would take ages", said the official.

However, environmental officials have not given up all hope. They are already looking ahead to the new Reform Treaty, which may be in place by 2009.

Under this new set of EU rules, the commission would have a basis for proposing such a law again, said the official.

Reacting to the court judgement, Green MEPs were more positive.

"We welcome today's ruling, which confirms an earlier ruling on the community-wide nature of environmental crime," said a statement from the Greens in the European Parliament.

"We hope Member States will introduce penalties, which reflect the gravity of environmental crimes to public health and the environment," it continued.

Brussels to beef up EU criminal policy

The European Commission on Tuesday said it is considering how to set up an EU criminal policy, with clear definitions on what is an EU crime and the minimum punishment to be applied across all member states. Financial market abuse is seen as strong contender for EU sanctions.

Feature

Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands

Lawyers in Greece accuse Frontex of incorrectly labeling minors as 'adults', a violation. Among them was 17-year old William, sent to the adult section of Moria, where he says he was abused. He was later able to prove his age.

Opinion

Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No

While I welcome Albania's EU integration, it is questionable whether they have fulfilled all the conditions. It surprises me that the commission claims that Albania already has; to whitewash inconvenient facts will not help neither Albania, nor the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Lukashenko amends emergency transfer of power
  2. German centre-left picks Scholz as would-be chancellor
  3. EU has not ordered AstraZeneca vaccines beyond June
  4. Macron: Pandemic showed need for more EU integration
  5. Election win fuels Scottish nationalists' referendum plan
  6. Surge in migrant arrivals to Italian island
  7. EU embassy pays bail for Georgia opposition leader
  8. British aristocrats caught peddling Kremlin ties

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  2. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  3. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No
  4. Vaccine fairness plus Russia on table This WEEK
  5. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  6. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  7. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  8. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us