Environmental liability: Parliament faced with a battle of amendments

On 14 May, MEPs will vote in first reading on
the draft directive on environmental liability. Businesses and
environment supporters still differ radically.

On 14 May, MEPs will vote in plenary on the draft directive
on environmental liability. Intensive debate and lobbying
have delayed the vote in plenary, initially foreseen for
March/April. While the environment committee adopted a
report which was very much welcomed by the environmental
NGOs in January, the lead legal affairs committee presents
a report to the plenary vote that is taking into account
the business federations’ concerns.

Socialists and Greens have retabled
amendments related to four key issues:

  • the scope of the directive;
  • defences and mitigation factors;
  • financial security provisions for companies;
  • change to the proposal’s legal basis.


Toine Manders, Parliament's rapporteur
said "This is a new legislation with a huge impact. It is
therefore unworkable to go too far at once. The legal
affairs committee has backed a solid and realistic
foundation, on which a sustainable European liability
regime for environmental damage can be built. If this
directive is not accepted in the May plenary, we can
forget this very important environmental legislation for
the coming decade, because of enlargement".

Business federations welcomed the
position of the European Parliament's Legal Affairs
Committee in particular as regards the maintenance of the
permit defence and the limitation to of the scope of the
directive to the Natura 2000 areas. They call on MEPs and
the Environment Council to reduce strict liability regime
only to exceptionally dangerous activities claiming that
an extension of strict liability to non-hazardous
activities would especially maximise the burden for small
enterprises. SMEs would have to establish cost-effective
financial security without any proportionate risk.

According to the environmental NGOs,
the report adopted by the Legal Committee weakens the
draft Directive. The NGOs oppose the introduction Permit'
and 'state-of-the-art' exceptions. The inclusion of such
provisions in the EU environmental liability regime would
fundamentally undermine its effectiveness, as many
operators would automatically be granted immunity for
environmental damage they cause. They believe that a
compulsory financial security requirement is vital in
order to ensure that clean-up costs are not passed on to
the taxpayer if an operator becomes insolvent.


The draft directive on environmental liability aims both to
prevent and restore environmental damage. Operators of
certain risky or potentially risky activities who cause
environmental damage (pollution of water, damage to
biodiversity and land contamination which causes serious
harm to human health) would be held responsible for
restoring the damage caused, or made to pay for the


  • The Parliament will vote in its first reading on 14
  • The Council should adopt its common position on 13




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