Environmental liability debated in the Parliament

On 21 May, the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee organised a public hearing for stakeholders to give their opinion on the Commission’s proposal on environmental liability.

The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee held a public hearing in order to give its rapporteurs input for the drafting of the opinion. The Commission’s proposal is a difficult legal text that can have far-reaching consequences for companies, public authorities and NGOs. The main issues of debate are:

  • The scope of the directive: definitions of what damage to biodiversity entails, what activities to include and in what form, etc.;
  • Exemptions of the directive: the proposal exempts activities with a license or permit, and small scale activities;
  • How damage should be assessed: questions arise concerning the baseline data to depart from, the reliability of cost-benefit analysis, calculations of non-use values etc;
  • Access to justice: the proposal suggests that public law should apply and that NGOs could bring action in certain cases;
  • Insurability of activities: the proposal is highlighting the need for some form of financial security, but should the costs be covered by mandatory insurances, funds or other schemes?


Mr Kretschmer fromUNICEstated that the Commission's proposal is on the right track when it recommends the use of public law. However, in general UNICE is very critical of the approach the Commission has taken. It is concerned that the proposal is so vague on how to quantify damage to biodiversity that it might expose companies to unlimited liability claims. The legislation would have to ensure insurability, so that companies could get insurances and that premiums would not be unrealistically high.

Mr Ferrigno fromEuropean Environment Bureau (EEB), stated that environmental organisations are critical of the proposed directive since it is too vague and permissive. He demanded the following changes to be introduced:

  • only strict liability should apply;
  • liability should apply to all activities that pose a danger to the environment (no exemptions should be granted);
  • access to justice should be granted to all citizens:
  • compulsory financial security should be required.


In January 2002, the Commission issued a proposal for a directive on environmental liability. The proposal aims to ensure that future environmental damage is paid by the polluter, and preferably prevented.


Opinions will be drawn up by the European Parliament's Environment Committee and Legal Affairs Committee. On 6 June a decision will be taken on which committee will take the lead. The Environment Committee has appointedMihail Papayannakis(Greece-GUE/NGL) as its rapporteur, and the Legal Affairs Committee has appointedToine Manders(NL-ELDR).


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