Can the new EU Directive boost the fight against environmental crime?

The relaunching of negotiations for a new directive on environmental crime is necessary to ensure a more effective fight against a crime that is widespread, but difficult to detect and poorly prosecuted. European legislators will have to overcome the failings of the old text, also within the framework of the Green Deal objectives.

Last December, after more than 10 years, the Commission published a revision of Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law. The new text addresses many of the shortcomings of the previous version. It also aims to increase compliance with EU environmental laws, representing an opportunity to step up efforts against one of the most profitable and difficult to prosecute crimes. The text is currently in the hands of the European Parliament (EP) which will have to adopt its proposal before sending it to the Council. Negotiations won’t be easy, and many compromises will have to be reached on the most sensitive issues, such as the harmonisation of sanctions, the empowerment of any European bodies, and the definition of “ecocide” as the most serious crime, which the Commission didn’t include but MEPs have long advocated for.

Together with the steps discussed in the framework of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence proposal (CSDD), this is a unique opportunity to strengthen the EU’s legislative framework on environmental crime. It will require:

  • Introduction of the definition of “environmental damage”, already established in the Directive on environmental liability, and clarification or substitution of vague terms, such as “substantial damage”.
  • Expansion of the mandate of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EEPO) with specific competences for the prosecution of environmental offences.
  • Enhance judicial cross-border cooperation and cooperation with third countries, since most crimes (such as illegal waste dumping and trafficking of chemical substances) occur cross-border.
  • Provide national courts with specialised trainings and expertise on environmental crimes, as well as develop specific instruments to improve information sharing and collection of data, as the lack of coordination between administration and sanction was indeed recognised.
  • Increase of minimum and maximum levels of financial sanctions for all MSs (the latter, at least to 10% of businesses’ annual overall turnover) and make them more dissuasive, as well as introduction of more serious judgments for crimes falling under the definition of ecocide.

To know more, read this analysis exploring the status of negotiations and the challenges ahead for the EU legislators.


© Photo by Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash