Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.
The new directive will double the number of environmental offences that currently exist under EU criminal law from nine to 18, including the import of invasive species, the illegal depletion of water resources, and pollution caused by ships.
Negotiators also agreed on stricter sanctions for so-called ‘qualified offences’, such as widespread pollution or large-scale forest fires comparable to ecocide.
These acts could result in an eight-year prison sentence, while intentional offences causing death to any person could carry a 10-year jail term.
For the most serious offences, companies could face a fine of at least 5% of their global turnover, or €40m (£35m). All other offences could result in fine of 3% of turnover, or €24m.
“We successfully negotiated a zero-tolerance position on environmental crimes that have huge consequences for human health and the environment,” said European parliament rapporteur Antonius Manders.
“There is no more hiding behind permits or legislative loopholes: this law is future-proof, meaning that the list of offences will be kept up to date.
"If you pollute, you will pay for your crimes; not only criminal companies paying fines, but also jail time for representatives of polluting companies."
Environmental crime is the fourth-largest criminal activity in the world and is considered one of the main sources of income for organised crime, alongside drugs, weapons and human trafficking.
Following the latest negotiations, people reporting offences will be provided with support, and judges, prosecutors, police and other judicial staff will undergo specialised regular training, while member states will organise awareness-raising campaigns to reduce environmental crime.
In cross-border cases, national authorities will be required to cooperate among themselves and with other competent bodies, such as Eurojust, Europol or the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Member states will also be required to prepare national strategies on combatting environmental crime and collect related statistical data, while the European commission will have to regularly update the list of criminal offences.
“Prevention is key, and that is why we highlighted the need for more resources, research, training and awareness-raising campaigns targeting both the public and private sector,” Manders continued.
“It is crucial that we fight these cross-border crimes at EU level with harmonised, dissuasive, and effective sanctions to prevent new environmental crimes.”
The agreed draft law requires formal approval by the Legal Affairs Committee and the European parliament as a whole, as well as by the council, before it can enter into force.
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