Improving environmental protection through criminal law

EESC opinion: Improving environmental protection through criminal law

Key points

  • The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the Commission's proposal to review the Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law and to replace Directive 2008/99/EC (ECD), as it addresses the main deficiencies of the current Directive and aims to tackle the rise in environmental criminal offences in Europe.
  • The EESC points out that the proposal retains its previous scope via a list of offences and lacks a definition of an autonomous general offence of harming or endangering the environment. The EESC believes that the list of offences should be extended to as many types of crime as possible so as to avoid having to revise the ECD again shortly after its entry into force and to prevent particular environmental criminal activity from going unpunished.
  • The EESC recognises the urgent need to improve the implementation of environmental criminal law in Europe and acknowledges that an ECD with clearer provisions would contribute to better implementation. The EESC believes that the proposed elements to take into account when assessing whether damage is substantial are unsatisfactory, that further guidance may be needed and that a self-standing definition of "substantial damage" would be clearer.
  • The EESC welcomes the reference to 'ecocide' in the recitals. However, the EESC believes that it would be appropriate to include this term in the operational part of the Directive.
  • The EESC endorses the inclusion of minimum standards for setting maximum limits for penalties for private persons and maximum limits for sanctions for legal persons. However, the EESC believes that, in order for sanctions to be truly effective, proportionate and dissuasive, their limits should be substantially increased.
  • The EESC encourages the Commission to assess the possibility of extending the jurisdiction of the European Public Prosecutor's Office to environmental crimes, thereby creating a Green European Public Prosecutor's Office that would be able to support the fight against environmental crimes with known links to organised crime.
  • The EESC stresses the need for reinforcement of the enforcement chain and implementation of European environmental criminal law. It reiterates its recommendation in Information Report NAT/767 on Evaluation on Environmental Crime Directive for EU Member States to set up specialised police forces, prosecutors, judges and courts in the area of environmental crime. The EESC believes that the ECD can only be effective if coupled with adequate resources and training at Member State level.