Member States oppose strong EU rules to penalise environmental crimes

The SWiPE project voices its concerns over the Council’s position on the revision of the Environmental Crime Directive, joining environmental NGOs, including Birdlife, Born Free, EEB, IFAW, Eurogroup for Animals, Humane Society International, and WWF.

The Justice Ministers of the EU’s Member States adopted recently their position on the revision of the Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law, also known as the Environmental Crime Directive (ECD). Compared to what the European Commission had originally proposed, Ministers have watered down the penalty and sanction levels applicable when environmental crimes are committed, and stripped other crucial provisions from their substance. In doing so, Member States fail to demonstrate any resolve to effectively step up the fight against environmental crimes.

As it is, Member States’ position fails to appropriately address environmental crimes. First, several major environmental crime offences are still not covered by the Directive, notably illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and underwater noise pollution. More importantly, the maximum terms of imprisonment agreed by the Ministers are far too low to be dissuasive and significantly deter environmental crimes. Low penalties lead to lower prioritisation of the relevant crimes and to insufficient resources devoted to investigations and prosecutions.

Finally, the EU Member States’ position also weakens important implementing provisions aimed at helping enforcement authorities in the fight against environmental crimes, in particular the removal of the need for all Member States to protect persons reporting offences or assisting in investigations.

Nonetheless, it is positive to see that Member States are proposing to more than double the list of offences set out under the previous Directive, and also recognise the need for resources, training, prevention, and improved coordination among relevant national authorities, among others.

The European Parliament must now adopt a progressive position, addressing the weaknesses of the Council position, including those mentioned above, and taking into consideration the opinion reports developed by Parliament Committees.

We are disappointed to see low levels of ambition when it comes to the harmonisation of sanctions, as well as a dilution of elements like the national strategies and data reporting. Both could lead to regional spots for environmental crime within the EU. It is now up to the European Parliament to address the deficiencies of the Council’s position and push for fundamental provisions to be included”, said Roselina Stoeva, SWiPE project manager.