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EU law against environmental crime

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EU law against environmental crime


Directive 2008/99/EC – protecting the environment by means of criminal law



It defines a number of serious offences that are detrimental to the environment.

It requires EU countries to introduce effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for these types of offence when committed intentionally or as a result of serious negligence.


Unlawful* behaviours with negative impacts on human health and/or the environment that are subject to penalties include:

discharge, emission or introduction into air, soil or water of dangerous materials;

collection, transport, recovery or disposal of hazardous waste;

shipment of noticeable quantities of waste;

operation of an industrial plant conducting dangerous activities or storing dangerous substances (e.g. factories producing paints or chemicals);

manufacture, treatment, storage, use, transport, import, export, or disposal of nuclear material / hazardous radioactive materials;

killing, possession or trafficking of noticeable amounts of protected animal and plant species;

damage to protected habitats;

production, trade in or use of substances that deplete the ozone layer (e.g. chemicals in fire extinguishers or cleaning solvents).


EU countries have to ensure that the offences/unlawful behaviours listed under this directive are punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties for individuals (natural persons*).

If offences are committed on the behalf of a legal person* (such as a company) by an individual who holds a leading position in that legal person, EU countries must ensure that both the individual and the legal person can be held liable.

If an individual under the authority of a legal person has not fulfilled their duties of supervision or control, EU countries must ensure that the individual and the legal person can be held liable.

Depending on the legal system of EU countries, the liability of legal persons may be criminal or non-criminal.

This Directive builds upon Directive 2004/35/EC, which lays down rules on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage.

The prosecution of environmental crime is the responsibility of EU countries. Because legal systems differ amongst EU countries, criminals can take advantage of the lack of communication between national authorities. Networks of environmental professionals, such as the EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), the EU Forum of Judges for the Environment (EUFJE) and the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE) play an important role in exchanging best practices and developing methodologies for effective enforcement.


Environmental crime


* Unlawful: in this context, refers to the breaching of EU or national laws that gives effect to the EU legislation referred to in the Annexes to Directive 2008/99/EC.

* Natural person: a human being.

* Legal person: any legal entity (e.g. a company, or other entity which has legal rights and is subject to obligations) under national law, except for states and public and international organisations.


Directive 2008/99/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on the protection of the environment through criminal law (OJ L 328, 6.12.2008, pp. 28–37)

last update 25.11.2015