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EU Adopts Stricter Environmental Crime Directive: Tougher Penalties and Expanded Offenses

The European Council has officially adopted a directive aimed at enhancing environmental protection through the application of criminal law. This directive is set to bolster the investigation and prosecution of crimes against the environment within the European Union (EU). It introduces EU-wide minimum standards regarding the definition of criminal offenses and associated penalties, replacing the outdated legislation from 2008.

EU Adopts Stricter Environmental Crime Directive: Tougher Penalties and Expanded Offenses

Under this new directive, member states are mandated to extend their jurisdiction to offenses committed within the EU, allowing them the option to pursue cases that occur outside their territorial boundaries. The scope of criminal offenses is significantly broadened, expanding from nine to 20 distinct activities. Notable additions include offenses such as timber trafficking, illicit recycling of ship components containing pollutants, and severe violations of chemical legislation.

A significant feature of the directive is the introduction of a "qualified offense" clause, which applies when an offense is committed intentionally and results in irreversible or long-term environmental harm. Penalties for intentional offenses leading to loss of life will include a minimum prison term of ten years, with member states having the discretion to impose even harsher penalties. Other offenses will carry prison sentences of up to five years, while qualified offenses will entail at least eight years of imprisonment.


In terms of corporate accountability, companies found guilty of serious offenses may face fines amounting to at least 5% of their global turnover or €40 million, whichever is higher. For lesser offenses, fines will be set at a minimum of 3% of turnover or €24 million. Member states are obligated to ensure that both individuals and corporations can be subject to additional sanctions, such as environmental restoration obligations, compensation for damages, exclusion from public funding, or revocation of permits and authorizations.

This directive represents a significant step forward in the EU's commitment to combatting environmental crime and ensuring accountability for those who endanger the natural world. By establishing clearer definitions of offenses and imposing stricter penalties, the EU aims to deter future violations and safeguard the environment for future generations.



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