EU battle over environmental crime heats up
Members of the European Parliament\'s environment committee meet on Thursday to vote on a European Commission plan to impose minimum criminal sanctions for serious breaches of EU environmental laws. But the proposal looks set to be ditched by governments in favour of a similar Danish initiative that could be agreed without involving other EU institutions.
The quarrel between Commission and council over the correct procedure to tackle environmental crime flared up a year ago when justice commissioner Antonio Vitorino tabled a draft directive just in time to stall agreement on Denmark\'s proposal (ED 19/03/01).
Both would harmonise the definition of crimes against the environment and require member states to put in place \"effective and dissuasive\" penalties against them. Neither would stipulate the precise punishment that offenders should receive (ED 13/03/01).
But whereas the Commission proposal is subject to full co-decision under the EU\'s \"first pillar\", Denmark\'s \"third pillar\" plan would be adopted by governments alone.
Nor would the European court of justice have jurisdiction over its implementation.
Governments were obliged to consider the Commission proposal. But Environment Daily understands that senior diplomats have now rejected it in favour of the Danish plan. Ministers are likely to adopt it shortly after a further non-binding opinion from the European parliament.
Though the effect of the initiatives would be similar in practice, member states fear the Commission proposal would set a precedent for further proposals in other areas of criminal law.
MEPs look set to back the Commission to the hilt in the dispute. In her report on the Commission\'s proposal Dutch christian democrat rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten supports its claim that any move to criminalise breaches of EU environmental laws passed through co-decision should itself be agreed under the procedure.
The MEP proposes strengthening the Commission\'s plan in several respects. Criminal penalties should apply not just to those breaching EU green laws, but also to businesses and individuals who \"incite\" them to do so, says Ms Oomen-Ruijten.
The list of proposed criminal acts should be expanded to include the emission of harmful substances and radiation, she adds. Other committee members have proposed that authorities be allowed to confiscate the profits of offending companies, while extradition should be possible.
Meanwhile, the Danish plan appears to have gone in the opposite direction, with elements of cross-border cooperation on crimes - such as extradition - removed to win over those member states less keen to see harmonised criminal law systems.
* Thursday\'s committee meeting will also see votes taken on two other important dossiers - the twin electronic waste directives (WEEE and RoHS) and restrictions on PBDE brominated flame retardants.
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