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Commission proposes to increase protection of the environment by criminal law
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Commission proposes to increase protection of the environment by criminal law

The European Commission adopted a proposal to create a new EU Directive to combat environmental crime. This is in line with a key commitment made by the European Green Deal. The proposal will encourage Member States to take criminal laws measures to protect the environment. It establishes new environmental crimes, establishes a minimum level of sanctions, and enhances law enforcement cooperation. It also requires the Member States to assist and support those who report environmental crimes and to cooperate with enforcement. This proposal will help protect nature and natural resource, as well public health and well-being.

Willful destruction of the natural environment is a threat to our survival as humans. Letting law-breakers act with impunity undermines our collective efforts to protect nature and biodiversity, fight the climate crisis, reduce pollution, and eliminate waste, EU Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said, adding that serious abuses must be met with a serious response, and today’s proposal lays the groundwork for that.

According to the Commission the proposal establishes new EU environmental criminal offences. This includes illegal timber trade, illegal ship recycle or illegal extraction of water. Additionally, the proposal clarifies existing definitions for environmental criminal offences, which provides greater legal certainty.

Vice-President of the Commission for Values and Transparency Vera JourovaNoting that the environment is not subject to borders, it was also noted that crimes against it can have adverse effects on all Member States. We must use every means to protect the environment at Union-level. Jourova stated that criminal laws are one of them. This proposal will give law enforcement authorities as well as the judiciary the tools they need to combat environmental crimes across all the Union.

The Commission proposed that a common minimum denominator be established for sanctions against environmental crimes. Member States must provide minimum ten year imprisonment for offences that cause or are likely cause death or serious injury to anyone. The directive draft also includes additional sanctions such as the restoration or exclusion of access to public funds and procurement procedures, or the revocation of administrative permits.

The Commission stated that the proposal also aims for improving criminal proceedings and investigations. It provides support for inspectors, prosecutors, judges and police through training, investigative tools coordination and cooperation, data collection and statistics, and better data collection. The Commission suggested that every Member State develop national strategies to ensure a consistent approach at all levels of enforcement, and the availability of the required resources.

The proposal will allow for cross-border investigations and prosecutions. Cross-border investigation and prosecution are common in environmental crimes. These crimes can only been tackled by law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities if they work together.

The Commission stated that it will continue to support Member States through providing a platform for law enforcement practitioners and their professional network a platform for strategic discussion and financial assistance. The Commission will continue to encourage international cooperation in this area, since environmental crime is a worldwide phenomenon.

EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commission Virginijus Sinkevicius stressed that environmental crimes cause irreversible and long-term damage to people’s health and the environment. However, they can be difficult to investigate and present before the Court while sanctions tend not to be strong. This is why we must strengthen our environmental criminal law. Sinkevicius stated that high levels of environmental protection are essential for future generations, as the international community is discussing the crime of ecocide.

Didier Reynders, Justice Commissioner, warned that there is no time for complacency. We must ensure that our rules regarding environmental crime are well-crafted and ambitious enough to make a difference. We now have another powerful tool to protect the environment, and ultimately our planet. He said that the proposal today is based on the lessons learned and the experience of the past years. It will directly address the root-causes that have hindered the protection of the environment being as effective as it should be.

The European Parliament will now submit the legislative proposal to the Council.

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