The new rules provide an updated list of acts related to the environment that qualify as criminal offences at EU level and of the related sanctions, to ensure a more effective enforcement of EU environmental legislation. The list will include, among other offences, the import and use of mercury and fluorinated greenhouse gases, the import of invasive species, the illegal depletion of water resources, and pollution caused by ships.
The Parliament and Council also agreed on stricter sanctions for so-called qualified offences, i.e. those causing the destruction of an ecosystem or habitat within a protected site or damage to air, soil or water quality.These would include offences comparable to ecocide with catastrophic results such as widespread pollution or large-scale forest fires.
Individuals, including company representatives, committing environmental offences leading to death can be sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years.Qualified offences would be punishable by eight years in prison, while for other criminal offences, depending on factors such as the durability, severity or reversibility of the damage, the punishment would be a five–year prison sentence.
Offenders may also face other sanctions, such as fines, and an obligation to reinstate the damaged environment or compensate for the damage caused. The same sanctions may be expected for companies, as alongside others like the withdrawal of licences, bans on access to public funding, or closure. Following transposition, when it comes to fines member states will be able to choose between levying them at 3 or 5% of yearly worldwide turnover, depending on the nature of the crime, or to choose fixed amounts of either 24 or 40 million euro.
People reporting offences will be provided with support, while judges, prosecutors, police and other judicial staff will undergo specialised regular training, and member states will organise awareness-raising campaigns to reduce environmental crime. They can also establish a fund to support prevention measures and tackle the consequences of environmental offences.
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.
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