Commission to table controversial EU eco-crime law

A new proposal seeks to oblige member states to impose criminal sanctions for illegal emissions of pollutants into the air, water and soil to punish breaches of environmental law.

A new directive proposal to be presented on Thursday (8 February 2007) by Justice Commissioner Franco Fratinni would force member states to consider serious offences against the environment as criminal acts and to impose sanctions. 

“The aim is to ensure that safe havens for environmental crime will no longer exist within the European Union,” the Commission said. The proposal follows a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice which, in September 2005, annulled an attempt by the member states to move environmental crime into the EU’s so-called ‘third pillar’ of intergovernmental co-operation (EURACTIV 14/09/05).

But the proposal is likely to stir controversy as it would for the first time interfere in member states sovereignty on criminal law.

“This is exactly like Soviet Russia,” said MEP Nigel Farage, leader of  UK Independence Party (UKIP), who termed the Commission’s initiative “paternalistic” and “arrogant”.

However, the move is backed by UK Conservative environment spokeswoman MEP Caroline Jackson, in a U-turn on the party’s traditional stance on EU matters. 

“EU leaders should establish a clear unified legal framework so that environmental lawbreakers can be prosecuted through their criminal courts in all 27 member states,” Jackson said.

She added that at present, not all member states impose criminal penalties for serious breaches of environmental law, even in the case of flagrant violations.

“The definition of environmental crime varies greatly from one member state to another,” the Commission explained, and in many of them the level of sanctions are “insufficient”.

The new directive would consider as serious offences the illegal emission of hazardous substances in to the air, water or soil, the illegal shipment and dumping of waste and the illegal trade of endangered species.

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