Seriously damaging the environment should be made a criminal offence in all EU Member States, so as to ensure that EU legislation is properly enforced, says the Legal Affairs Committee in a co-decision report, approved on Tuesday, on a proposed EU directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law.
MEPs in committee agreed that in principle governments should apply criminal measures to punish any illegal behaviour likely to seriously injure people or damage air, soil, waters, plants and animals, when committed intentionally or with serious negligence. The report, by Hartmut Nassauer (EPP-ED, DE) was approved by a small majority, with 15 votes in favour, 11 against and 2 abstentions. Commenting on the vote, Mr Nassauer said: "We are on the way to a first reading agreement with the Council; today's good result will allow us to achieve that".
Criminal law to apply to infringements of Community legislation
The report's overall aim is to ensure that all Member States treat as criminal offences a series of acts that cause damage to the environment. In other words, if in an EU Member State one of the acts listed in the report is currently subject only to civil sanctions (e.g. a fine), then the entry into force of this legislation would oblige national government to apply "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" criminal penalties to that specific case. The committee also agreed that the directive would only apply to breaches of EU environment protection legislation, as set out in the annex to the report.
Penalties for trading in protected fauna and ozone-depleting substances
Among the offences that would be deemed crimes, when already illegal under EU law, the approved text lists environmental damage caused by the emission of radiation into air, soil or water, the disposal of waste, and the manufacture and storage of nuclear materials. MEPs also backed the inclusion within the directive's scope of the possession, killing or trading of protected fauna and flora species, the deterioration of a habitat of a protected site, and the manufacture and distribution of ozone-depleting substances.
ECJ ruling of October 2007
The committee further amended the original Commission proposal to make the directive consistent with a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision of October 2007. The ECJ ruled that the EU has competence to adopt criminal measures only where there is a "justifiable need", e. g. in the common transport and environment policies. But it also said that the EU may not specify the type and level of the criminal sanctions. MEPs therefore deleted from the Commission text an article providing for the duration and extension of the proposed sanctions.