EU co-legislators take significant step to tackle environmental crime
Posted on 16 November 2023
After six months of negotiations, the EU co-legislators finalised the elements of the revised EU Environmental Crime Directive (ECD), which strengthens and harmonises the criminal law response across the EU, marking a significant stride toward better protecting our environment and society.
A notable aspect of the law is the introduction of common sanction levels for both natural and legal persons, this is key to deter offenders and support cross-border cooperation. However, due to the Council’s resistance, the agreed sanction levels fall short of expectations. In particular, certain offenses are only punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least three years which will limit authorities' capacity to properly investigate and prosecute these crimes. In addition, the fines for legal persons remain insufficiently dissuasive, with varying calculation methods hindering harmonisation across EU Member States.
“Having harmonised sanction levels across the entire European Union is a step in the right direction, but the current levels are not reflecting the gravity of environmental crimes,” said Audrey Chambaudet, Wildlife Trade & Wildlife Crime Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office. “Thanks to the determination of the European Parliament, the inclusion of a qualified offense covering the most severe environmental crimes, punishable by higher sanctions, adds teeth to the law and will provide competent authorities with a new tool in their arsenal”.
Other key highlights of the agreement include the extension of the list of offenses covered by the Directive, incorporating issues such as underwater noise pollution and deforestation. Particularly relevant to WWF's work on wildlife trade and crime is the inclusion of Annex C species of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, broadening the scope of the Directive to encompass species of high conservation value, including threatened endemic species.
The agreement also recognises the need for enhanced specialisation, training, and resources for competent enforcement and judicial authorities. National strategies and data collection provisions have been strengthened, and the European Commission will conduct regular evaluations of the Directive's implementation and effectiveness.
Regrettably, the Parliament's proposal to include illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) as an additional offense was not adopted. Despite being one of the most lucrative and pervasive forms of environmental crime, this omission represents a missed opportunity to address these practices more effectively within the Directive.
While this agreement marks a significant milestone, the compromise text still requires formal adoption by the European Parliament and Member States.