EU to harmonise environment crime sanctions

Commission adopts Danish proposal for law to set minimum standards on liability, extradition

The EU should introduce minimum sanctions for serious environmental crimes, according to law a proposed last week by the European Commission for adoption by ministers. Based on an initiative by Denmark, the proposals would introduce a common environmental liability scheme and harmonise the way EU member states prosecute criminals for environmental offences.

The Danish government stresses that the proposal is not an attempt to change the EU's environmental laws. Instead it aims to ensure minimum standards of prosecution for those that break them. The draft EU decision is based on the Danish legal system, in which the "top 20%" of serious environmental crimes, such as unauthorised dumping of hazardous waste, are treated as breaches of criminal rather than civil law.

The measure is necessary, according to a diplomatic source, because many environmental crimes have transfrontier impacts and because national rules vary widely. The impending accession of several eastern European countries with well documented environmental problems, gives the issue added relevance, he said. The law would allow the perpetrators of crimes to be extradited between EU states.

Under the proposal, serious environmental crimes would be punishable in a way which is "effective and commensurate with the offence" and would be covered by "effective compensation rules and rules on environmental rehabilitation." It would also oblige national authorities to cooperate in solving crimes and extend the mandate of Europol, the EU's police coordination body so that it could deal with environmental incidents.

Diplomats have held initial talks on the law, which would passed as a "third pillar" justice and home affairs issue with little involvement from the European Parliament. However, the source said hopes of a rapid passage were "not that positive at the moment," despite what he said was a willingness by the Portuguese presidency of the EU to take the proposal under its wing. He said it would be a "complicated legal exercise" which would face opposition from those countries whose legal systems were arranged differently.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6423. See also the Draft Council framework decision, published in OJ C 39/4-7, 11/2/2000.

Correction, 18/2/00
In the above article we incorrectly reported that the European Commissionhad proposed the EU environmental crime measure, whereas the proposal was,in fact, made solely by the Danish government under the EU treaty's "thirdpillar".

The Commission is also working on environmental crime issues, and is tosurvey EU member states to determine how widely sanctions for environmentaloffences vary among them. The move is part of a plan to ensure that EUcountries regard similar offences with equal seriousness through "firstpillar" measures such as EU environmental laws, which only the Commissionis entitled to propose.

Official information on the EU's "third pillar" can be found on Scadplus under the sub-heading"Title VI of the treaty of European Union".

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