Liability: EP Committee votes for a powerful polluter pays principle

On 22 January, the Environment Committee gave its opinion on the draft directive on environmental liability calling for a wide financial and legal accountability of polluters.

On 22 January, the EP Environment Committee adopted its opinion on the draft directive on environmental liability. Despite much opposition from industry, the Committee voted in favour of strict rules and called for:

  • the removal of the “compliance with permit” and the “state of the art” defenses to ensure that the costs of remediation are borne by those causing environmental damage.
  • a mandatory requirement for insurance or other form of financial security within five years from the date of the Directive’s entry into force. This should help place the burden of any costs on the polluter and not on the public purse.
  • an improvement in the provisions on access to justice, to guarantee that non-governmental organisations and citizens can take direct action against polluters, instead of leaving that to the public authority alone. This should ensure that the aims of the Directive are achieved more effectively.
  • widening the scope of the proposal to include damage caused by genetically modified organisms and to cover all habitats and species protected, not only by Community law as proposed by the Commission, but also by international, national and regional laws.
  • the inclusion of joint and several liability in the proposal, while also limiting this to the proportionate share for minor contributors to environmental damage, such as small and medium-sized enterprises.


Mihail Papayannakis, opinion draftsman for the EP Committee on the Environment, said "the costs of environmental restoration should be borne by the polluter, not the taxpayer. Europe has had its share of environmental disasters, from oil spills, chemical leaks to industrial accidents. While the risk of such events happening again can not be eliminated completely, a set of clear and strict rules on who pays the bill for cleaning up should certainly make industrial operators think a little bit more carefully about the risks they take".

Eurochambres, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says that "the environmental liability directive goes too far and will create major legal and economic uncertainty for European companies if adopted according to the current European Commission proposal". It urges to revise the draft directive so as to ensure that:

  • enterprises which run their operations in accordance with all current licences and other legislation and do not act negligently must not be held liable for any damage;
  • Strict liability (i. e. without fault of the polluter) is limited to hazardous activities only;
  • biodiversity is precisely defined

Environmental organisationswelcomed the vote of the Environment Committee which is in line with their call to widen the scope of the directive and to remove the permit defence and other loopholes from the Commissions liability proposal.


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.


  • January 2003: discussion of other committees' opinions & own amendments in Legal Affairs Committee
  • February/March 2003: Vote on report in Legal Affairs Committee
  • March/April 2003: Vote in Parliament Plenary
  • March 2003: the Environment Council is expected to discuss a progress report
  • June 2003: the Environment Council is expected to reach a political agreement


Subscribe to our newsletters