Intense debate in the EP about environmental liability

Several Parliament’s committees are discussing
the Commission’s proposal on environmental liability ahead of
the Parliament’s first reading.

In the next three months, the proposal for a directive
on environmental liability will be debated by different

  • the lead Committee: Legal affairs, internal market,
    Toine Manders


  • four comittees will give their opinions: the
    Environment, public health, consumers committee through
    Papayannakis Mihail (GUE/NGL), the Industry, external
    trade, research committee through Atkins Robert
    (PPE-DE), the Petitions committee through Marinos
    Ioannis (PPE-DE) and the Economic, monetary affairs
    committee through Alain Lipietz (Greens).

In October, a round table on environmental liability
took place between MEPs and stakeholders. This event
exposed very opposite views from the business industry
and the environmental NGOs. Both sides are now very
active in their lobbying. For example, on 26 November,
representatives from UK SMEs met MEPs claiming that SMEs
could be forced out of business as a result of the extra
costs of liability payouts and added insurance.
Environmental NGOs are fighting back to ensure that the
scope of the proposed directive on environmental
liability is not too reduced and to restrict the defenses

The main issues at stake are:

  • whether insurance should be compulsory or
  • whether the Member states should be able to exempt
    certain companies from the scheme;
  • whether a cap on liability payment shoud be
  • which defenses should be made available;
  • whether the scope of the directive should be


Business associations

call on the EU legislator to provide concrete measures to
avoid disproportionate and ruinous claims and to ascertain
insurability (an absolute pre-requisite for any form of
liability). UNICE and UEAPME also call on the legislator
not to undermine existing legislation by imposing liability
for authorised activities and not to hinder innovation by
imposing liability for activities which were not considered
harmful when they took place.

The AmCham EU Committee

supports the defenses included in the proposal, especially
the permit defense and the state of the art defense. The
existence of these defenses will provide companies with a
level of predictability as to costs and liabilities and
will provide a strong incentive for companies to operate
strictly within their permit limits and to identify and
follow the state of the art.

Friends of the Earth Europe

criticizes the scope of the proposed directive saying that
"economic damage- such as contamination of organic crops
through cross-pollination with genetically modified crops
is completely overlooked". They are opposed to the
state-of- knowledge defense which would allow polluters to
avoid liability by arguing that the activities or emissions
were not considered harmful when the incident happened.
They also stated, "The permit defense weakens the draft
directive by excluding liability for all activities and
emissions for which the operator holds a permit".


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. The proposed directive
covers three types of environmental damage: biodiversity,
water and damage which causes serious potential or actual
harm to public health via soil or sub-soil contamination.

The Environment Committee and the Legal Affairs
Committee had both claimed the right to be the leading
committee on the issue of environmental liability. In July
2002, the Parliament plenary voted in favour of the Legal
Affairs Committee.


  • The Environment Council will discuss the progress
    report on the Commission's proposal for a directive on
    environmental liability d uring its meeting on 9-10
    December. A political agreement on the proposal is not
    expected before the spring of 2003.
  • Late 2002 - early 2003: Parliament's first
  • January 2003: Vote in Environment Committee and
    discussion of other committees' opinions and own
    amendments in Legal Affairs Committee
  • February/March 2003: Vote in Legal Affairs
  • March/April 2003: Vote in Parliament Plenary


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