EU to punish environment law breakers


Activities seriously damaging environment will soon become a crime across the 27-nation EU, as the bloc's main institutions have agreed on a piece of law harmonising what constitutes a severe environmental offence and obliging national governments to apply criminal penalties to punish them.

Members of the European Parliament have given their blessing to a report by German conservative Hartmut Nassauer, which calls for 'effective, proportionate and dissuasive' criminal sanctions for number of crimes.

The list includes crimes related to -

  • the emission of radiation into the air, soil or water;
  • the disposal of waste;
  • the production, storage and transport of nuclear materials;
  • the possession or killing of protected fauna and flora species;
  • the deterioration of a habitat within a protected site - and
  • the manufacture and distribution of ozone-depleting substances.

All three EU bodies - the parliament, the European commission and the council, representing member states - have thrown their weight behind the draft law during the so-called first reading - the early stages of legislative process. "With this compromise, everybody knows which environmental offences can lead to criminal law consequences" - Mr Nassauer said.

Commission vice-president Jacques Barrot, in charge of the justice dossier, also praised the deal, underlining that the new EU legislation will "significantly contribute to more effective protection of environment".

Currently, not all EU countries apply criminal sanctions and polluters are able to benefit from differences in national laws.

Brussels' move into the area was triggered by a landmark ruling on environmental crimes by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in September 2005 - something that gave the commission the power to introduce penal measures in order to make community legislation effective.

However, a later ECJ verdict in October 2007, stated that the commission did not have a say in the most controversial area - the type and level of criminal sanctions. Member states will retain the power to determine what sanctions to apply.