Europe Plans to Revamp Environmental Liability Rules

European Parliament President David Sassoli at the EU Summit. Photo: European Parliament (file photo)
European Parliament President David Sassoli at the EU Summit. Photo: European Parliament (file photo)

Parliament strongly condemns any forms of violence, harassment or intimidation against environmental human rights defenders.

The Members of European Parliament (MEPs) want to strengthen existing EU rules on companies’ environmental liability to reduce and prevent environmental harm.

In order to enforce implementation and increase citizens’ trust in EU rules, and to prevent and remedy environmental damage more effectively, Parliament demands that the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) and the Environmental Crime Directive (ECD) be improved. Recommendations from MEPs include:

Revising and transforming the Environmental Liability Directive into a fully harmonised regulation that would apply to all companies operating in the EU;

Aligning the ELD with other EU legislation on environmental protection, including the ECD and the Paris climate agreement; increasing efforts to harmonise its implementation in Member States;

Updating the Environmental Crime Directive following a thorough impact assessment to take into account new types of environmental crimes;

Looking into how “ecocide” can be recognised under EU law and diplomacy; clarifying key legal terms under the ELD and ECD and developing harmonised classification of environmental crimes;

Creating an EU ELD Task Force (made up of experts and Commission staff) to help with implementation in Member States, and to offer support and advise victims of environmental damage on legal recourse in the EU;

Assessing if a mandatory financial security system (e.g. covering insurance, bank guarantees, bonds or funds) could be introduced so taxpayers do not have to bear the costs of environmental damage.

MEPs deplore the low detection, investigation and conviction rates for environmental crimes, estimated to be the fourth biggest type of criminal activity in the world, and call for authorities involved (e.g. prosecutors and judges) to be trained in order to improve prosecuting and sanctioning of such crimes. The mandate of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) should also be extended to cover environmental offences.

Furthermore, Parliament strongly condemns any forms of violence, harassment or intimidation against environmental human rights defenders and calls on Member States to effectively investigate and prosecute such acts. During the same plenary session, MEPs adopted another report urging for strong EU support and protection of environmental rights defenders and a recognition of “ecocide” as an international crime under the Rome Statute.

The report on liability of companies for environmental damage was adopted with 536 in favour, 121 against and 36 abstentions.

“After almost 20 years, it is time for a modernised ELD in the form of a regulation that aims at prevention and reducing risk. Just as important are measures to ensure that if damage does occur, taxpayers do not foot the bill in the end. And last but not least, to ensure a level playing field, we propose setting up an EU ELD Task Force at the Commission to help Member States harmonise enforcement across the internal market,” Rapporteur Antonius Manders (EPP, NL) said.

The Commission announced during the plenary debate of May 19 that it is currently preparing a revision of the Environmental Crime Directive and will soon launch an evaluation of the Environmental Liability Directive, in line with the Better Regulation approach, before considering a possible revision.

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