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June 16, 2024
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EU New Environmental Crime Directive comes into force

The European Union has launched a new Environmental Crime Directive to combat the most serious environmental offenses, which can have devastating effects on both the environment and human health.

To achieve the European Green Deal objectives, the new Directive will provide for a comprehensive and up-to-date list of environmental offences addressing the most serious breaches of environmental obligations. Member States will have to ensure that these breaches constitute criminal offences in their national law.

The new Directive introduces several new offence categories, such as unlawful ship recycling, unlawful water abstraction, serious breaches of EU chemicals and mercury legislation, serious breaches related to dealing with fluorinated greenhouse gases, and serious breaches of legislation on invasive alien species.

In addition, Member States will be obliged to establish qualified offences, subject to more severe penalties where one of the offences defined in the Directive leads to serious widespread and substantial damage or destruction of the environment.

The Directive also defines concrete types and levels of penalties for natural and legal persons, a huge step forward to ensure a deterrent effect across the EU. The criminal law will enter into force on May 20.

The new rules further include provisions on strengthening the enforcement chain to combat environmental crime. Practitioners combating environmental offences shall have access to sufficient resources and appropriate training. The new Environmental Crime Directive will also ensure support and assistance to environmental defenders in criminal proceedings.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “This landmark law is the first of its kind. It will ensure that the most severe breaches of environmental rules are considered as crimes and that the key role of environmental defenders is acknowledged. It will also give law enforcement authorities and the judiciary the tools to act effectively against environmental crimes across the Union.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “Environmental obligations are designed to protect the delicate and fragile ecosystems that we rely on to survive. Those who breach such obligations put our health and our environment at risk. It is every bit as criminal a behaviour as other types of serious crimes, and therefore every bit as deserving to lead to criminal sentencing. These new rules are a major leap forward to ensure appropriate accountability for environmental crimes.”

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