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Protection of the environment through criminal law

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

Protection of the environment through criminal law

The proposal would require Member States to ensure the proper application of Community law on protection of the environment by providing for criminal penalties for serious environmental offences.


Proposal of 13 March 2001 for a European Parliament and Council Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law.


The Council and the Commission have both recognised the need to establish Community rules to combat environmental crime.

The aim of this Commission proposal is to lay down minimum rules on penalties for environmental offences in accordance with Article 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.

Member States will have to ensure that any act committed intentionally or out of serious negligence which breaches the Community rules protecting the environment is treated as a criminal offence. An exhaustive list of the relevant Community legislation is attached to the proposal and includes provisions on the following:

  • the unauthorised discharge of hydrocarbons, waste oils or sewage sludge into water and the emission of a certain quantity of dangerous substances into the air, soil or water;
  • the treatment, transport, storage and elimination of hazardous waste;
  • the discharge of waste on or into land or into water, including the improper operation of a landfill site;
  • the possession and taking of, or trading in protected wild fauna and flora species;
  • the deterioration of a protected habitat;
  • trade in ozone-depleting substances.

Criminal penalties must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. They will be applied to persons convicted of breaching Community law as well as persons involved in such offences or inciting others to commit them. Serious cases may be punishable by imprisonment.

Member States will be required to make provision for a range of penalties applicable to natural and legal persons, including fines, disqualification from public benefits or aid, temporary or permanent disqualification from exercising business activities or winding up orders.

Every three years, Member States will submit a report on implementation of the Directive to the Commission. The Commission will then send a report to the Council and the European Parliament.


On 11 February 2000 Denmark presented an initiative for the establishment of cooperation between the police and the courts to fight environmental crime. This became Decision 2003/80/JHA, which was annulled by the Court of Justice of the European Communities on 13 September 2005 (see below, Related acts).

References and procedure


Official Journal


COM(2001) 139

OJ C 180 E of 26.6.2001



Judgment given by the Court of Justice (Grand Chamber) on 13 September 2005, Case C-176/03. The ECJ annulled Decision 2003/80/JHA on the ground that it should have been adopted on the basis of the EC Treaty and not the Treaty on European Union (Union Treaty). The Court thus upheld the Commission's submission, holding that the Commission may take measures in relation to the Member States' criminal law where the application of criminal penalties is an essential measure for combating serious environmental offences.

Last updated: 03.04.2006