EU lawmakers toughen up draft law on environmental crimes

European flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels,
FILE PHOTO-European flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 13, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman

LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers on Tuesday toughened up a draft law to crack down on illegal timber trade and other crimes against the environment, with sanctions that include imprisonment for up to 10 years for the most serious offences.

The EU draft law, proposed in December 2021, updates and introduces bloc-wide definitions of environmental crimes to help protect biodiversity, including the combatting of illegal abstraction of water, with minimum sanctions that EU states would have to apply.

"There can be no more excuses when it comes to environmental crime," Dutch centre-right member of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee, Antonius Manders, said in a statement.

The committee backed cross-party compromises to toughen the draft law, including a requirement for EU states to ensure that any conduct which causes or is likely to cause death or serious harm to any person’s health, quality of air, soil, water, animals or plants constitutes a criminal offence.

Such offences should be punishable by at least 10 years in prison, the committee agreed.

The committee backed fines of up to 10% of a company's average worldwide turnover in the three business years preceding the fine, tougher than the 3% of worldwide turnover in the previous one year proposed in the draft law.

It also backed a clause saying that member states "shall ensure that from the moment a conduct becomes unlawful, the perpetrator cannot invoke the issuance of an authorisation to be exempted of any criminal liability".

Parliament has joint say with EU states on the draft law, and member countries in December reached their own position ahead of joint negotiations with parliament that will begin in the coming months.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Jan Harvey

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