The results indicated that the number of successfully prosecuted environmental cases was low, sanctions were too insufficient to be a deterrent, and cross-border cooperation was weak.
The proposal fulfils a key commitment of the European Green Deal. It defines new environmental crimes, sets minimum sanctions, and strengthens effective law-enforcement cooperation.
It also obliges member states to support and assist people who report environmental offences, and cooperate with enforcement.
The new EU environmental criminal offences will include:
- Illegal timber trade,
- Illegal ship recycling,
- Illegal abstraction of water.
The proposal also clarifies existing definitions of environmental criminal offences, with the aim of making criminal proceedings more effective, and providing for increased legal certainty.
The European Commission also wants a common minimum denominator for sanctions for environmental crimes.
Death or serious injury
Member states must provide at least for imprisonment of up to ten years, where offences cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.
The draft directive also proposes additional sanctions – including restoration of nature, exclusion from access to public funding and procurement procedures, or withdrawal of administrative permits.
Inspectors, police, prosecutors and judges will be given training, investigative tools, and enhanced data collection and statistics.
The commission proposes that each member state develops national strategies that ensure a coherent approach to enforcement and resources.
The proposal will help cross-border investigation and prosecution – for instance, against the illicit wildlife trafficking, or in dealing with cross-border air, water or soil pollution.
Executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “The wilful destruction of our natural environment threatens our very survival as humanity.
“Letting law-breakers act with impunity undermines our collective efforts to protect nature and biodiversity, fight the climate crisis, reduce pollution, and eliminate waste.
“Serious abuses must be met with a serious response, and today's proposal lays the groundwork for that.”
Vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourová, said: “The environment knows no borders, and crimes against it display their negative effects across member states.
“We must use all possible means to protect the environment at union level. Criminal law is one of them, and this proposal will give law enforcement authorities and the judiciary the tools to act more effectively against environmental crimes across the union.”
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “Environmental crimes cause irreversible and long-term damage to people's health and the environment.
“Yet, they are hard to investigate and bring before the court, while sanctions tend to be weak. That is why we need to strengthen our environmental criminal law.
“At a time where the international community discusses the crime of ecocide, a high level of environmental protection is not only important for present, but also future, generations as we redouble our efforts to fight environmental degradation.”
The legislative proposal will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council.