European Union plans tougher penalties for environmental crimes
Courts in European Union countries should have the power to impose fines on companies that commit serious environmental crimes up to at least 5% of their global revenues, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
The countries of the bloc should also ensure that their national criminal law codes provide for maximum prison sentences of at least six years for those who commit environmental crimes, up to at least ten years in the event of death. or serious injury, the commission said.
More severe sanctions were necessary because “too often in Europe, there is no real sanction for environmental crimes,” said European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius. The maximum sentences that can be imposed by judges should be “more effective, more dissuasive and more proportionate,” he said.
The commission proposed minimum levels of maximum fines and jail terms as part of a bill that would also expand the range of environmental crimes to be covered by penalties. The bill would replace a 2008 EU law that covered fewer categories of crime and did not provide for penalties.
The European Parliament and the Council of the EU, in which the governments of member countries meet, are expected to endorse the update on environmental crime.
Maximum fines of at least 5% should be imposed on companies that commit offenses, including dumping of waste, industrial pollution causing death or injury and the sale of chemicals or banned products causing widespread environmental damage, according to the proposed law.
For companies that destroy or traffic wildlife, provide illegally harvested timber, or damage protected habitats, the maximum fine should be at least 3% of global revenues, the commission said. EU countries should be free to apply criminal sanctions to company personnel in addition to fines imposed on a company, the bill added.
New offenses not covered by the 2008 law included illegal timber trade, illegal ship recycling and illegal water harvesting. The new law would also set minimum standards for EU countries on issues such as aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the protection of environmental whistleblowers.
The expanded scope of the law was welcome, but the “bold goals cannot be achieved without a significant allocation of resources,” said Beastly Business, a wildlife trafficking research project at the University of Sheffield in the UK. , in an email.
Unless more money is made available to national law enforcement authorities, “it is highly likely that environmental crimes will not be a priority,” Beastly Business said.
The new law would affect EU countries differently as some already impose maximum penalties for environmental crimes beyond those proposed by the committee.
For example, for illegal waste dumps, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France and Poland should increase their maximum prison sentences stipulated under the new law, but the maximum sentences in Germany, Greece, Croatia and in the Netherlands already exceed those of the draft directive, according to a study published by the committee in October 2020.
Maximum fines for environmental violations by companies currently range from a few tens of thousands of euros in Bulgaria, Romania and Sweden, to 10 million or more in Belgium, Germany and Ireland, according to the study. .
Frederik Hafen, responsible for environmental democracy policies in the European Environment Bureau’s advocacy group, said he was convinced that EU countries âwould recognize the need for harmonization at European level, including including the harmonization of sanctions, in order to take into account the cross-border nature of environmental problems. crimes. “
“The penalties must be severe enough and the fines high enough that they can no longer simply be taken into account by criminals as the cost of doing business,” he said.