Environmental crime covers acts that breach environmental legislation and cause significant harm or risk to the environment and human health. The most known areas of environmental crime are the illegal emission or discharge of substances into air, water or soil, the illegal trade in wildlife, illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances and the illegal shipment or dumping of waste. Environmental crimes cause significant damage to the environment in Europe and the world. At the same time they provide for very high profits for perpetrators and relatively low risks of detection. Very often, environmental crimes have a cross border aspect. Environmental crime is a serious and growing problem that needs to be tackled at European level.
The problem of environmental crime has been discussed in many international and European fora for many years. Building on this work, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive aiming to ensure the protection of the environment through criminal law.
After lengthy institutional discussions and two judgments of the European Court of Justice on the extent of the Community's competence in the area of criminal law, the Council and the European Parliament agreed on the text of the directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law.
The Justice and Home Affairs Council formally adopted the directive on 24 October 2008 which had to be transposed by EU Member States by December 2010.
Why a Directive to protect the environment through criminal law?
Environmental law needs to be implemented in an effective way. That is the reason why the Commission proposed a directive which requires the Member States to provide for criminal sanctions for the most serious environmental offences because only this type of measures seems adequate, and dissuasive enough, to achieve proper implementation of environmental law.
The available information shows that there are large differences between the criminal sanctions provided for environmental offences in the Member States. The existing criminal sanctions are not sufficiently stringent to ensure a high level of environmental protection throughout the Community (see studies carried out by the Commission)
Main content of the Directive: minimum requirements to be implemented in national criminal laws
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