21 November 2014 (revised: 17/12/2014)
A new report by Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation body, reveals that organised crime groups (OCGs) are behind cross-border environmental crime. At the same time, paradoxically, despite huge profits from these crimes (estimated at USD 30-70 billion per year. Source: OECD), statistics show that environmental crime is seldom prosecuted by national authorities. The number of cases referred to Eurojust is very low, despite the need for a cross-border approach to achieve convictions, which Eurojust explained at a briefing in Brussels on 21 November.
The long list of environmental crimes includes:
- Dangerous waste illegally exported to third States from EU Member States
- Different forms of water pollution in EU Member States
- Illegal export of bird eggs and monkeys
This very first report by Eurojust on environmental crime focuses on three topics and looks at national enforcement structures, access to expertise, and possible solutions to tackle the challenges of trafficking in endangered species, illegal trafficking in waste, and surface water pollution.
- The proceeds of environmental crime are very high, yet the penalties are low;
- Links to OCGs and illegal trafficking in waste are underreported or simply not investigated;
- Lack of coordination among competent authorities at both national and international level, e.g. the public prosecutor does not receive the necessary information from customs or veterinary authorities;
- To a large extent, national authorities fail to tackle cases in a cross-border manner;
- Implementation of EU legislation at national level differs from Member State to Member State. This fact hampers a harmonised, cross-border approach to fighting environmental crime; and
- Some Member States do not have the proper organisational structures in place, e.g. dedicated police units or prosecutors focusing solely on environmental crime. Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands have such dedicated prosecutors.
- Intelligence is a must for this type of crime. Better intelligence-gathering at Member State level must be developed through a multi-disciplinary approach, in which different authorities cooperate better, and sharing of best practice and expertise; and
- Eurojust’s early involvement in the coordination of investigations and prosecutions and a more systematic use of its tools - joint investigation teams, coordination meetings and coordination centres - to more effectively fight serious cross-border environmental crime.
Commissioner Vera Jourová commented: ‘One of my priorities as a Commissioner is to build the citizens’ trust in the judicial systems of the EU. And one of the elements in building this trust is to prosecute, and to make sure that serious criminals actually are put behind bars. At the same time, you must safeguard the citizens’ rights and the Rule of Law when issuing orders for searches and seizes. This is why it is crucial that prosecutors are involved from the start when fighting cross-border crimes. Environmental crime is threatening human life, health, and natural resources. These crimes affect the whole of society. They must therefore be targeted with the same seriousness as other criminal offenses.'
The President of Eurojust, Ms Michèle Coninsx, and the leader of Eurojust’s Project Team on Environmental Crime, Mr Leif Görts, commented: ‘This report is an alarm call for practitioners and policymakers about the serious impact of this relatively new and increasingly frequent crime type. Organised crime groups are active in environmental crime since the penalties are low. This situation calls for cross-border action and for the correct organisational structures to be put in place in the Member States.’