EU states lose environmental crime test case

The European court of justice has delivered a stinging rebuke to EU governments over environmental crime, clearing the way for the European commission and parliament to get involved in the field.

In a judgement released on Tuesday, the court annulled a decision agreed by the council of ministers and asserted that it should instead have been agreed through the "community method". European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the verdict as "strengthening democracy and efficiency" in European lawmaking.

The verdict is significant both for European environmental law and decision-making more generally. A jubilant European commission said the ruling would enable community decision making even in areas affecting criminal law, hitherto a preserve of member states. In such cases, the council will no longer be able "evade the commission's sole right of initiative or the European parliament's right to co-decide".

As a result of the ruling, a competing commission proposal for an EU directive on environmental crime could now be reanimated. Parliament's rapporteur MEP on the dossier Ria Oomen Ruijten said she hoped the assembly could now begin its second reading. At first reading it proposed strengthening the controls in several respects.

The ruling is also significant because of the different legal arrangements after an EU environmental crime law is agreed through co-decision. In this case, the commission will be able to challenge any implementation failures by member states before the European court, a right it does not have under the framework decision.

Agreed in 2003, the framework decision requires member states to apply "effective, proportional and dissuasive" criminal penalties in cases of environmental crime when committed intentionally or with negligence, including the possibility of extradition in serious cases.

The commission's rival proposal for an EU directive, tabled in 2001 covers similar ground. A spokesman for the council of ministers stressed that the court's ruling does not create a legal void in practical terms since member states have now transposed the framework decision into national law and these laws are unaffected.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily




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