Stronger penalties and an inter-disciplinary approach will be vital in effectively dealing with the organised environmental crime in the EU. According to an alarming report produced by EUROJUST, the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, illegal trafficking of waste has grown during the crisis, but remains practically ignored, despite the fact that Europol has highlighted its importance in its 2013 Threat Assessment of environmental crime. Water pollution in Greece, Hungary and Sweden is also reported as a growing type of organised environmental crime that requires an extensive and multi-disciplinary investigation system in order to securely identify the sources and proceed with prosecution. Illegal trafficking of endangered species is the third most pressing type of environmental crime, whose combating requires coordination among competent authorities and a less lenient sanctioning system.
EUROJUST states that the economic crisis has aggravated organised environmental crime relating to industrial waste disposal: “Furthermore, as a result of the introduction of stringent regulations and an increase in the amounts charged for the legal disposal of waste, Member States have noticed a growing demand for illegal waste disposal services, especially with regard to waste intended for exportation. Due to the economic crisis and the financial constraints, companies have increasingly tried to avoid payment of costs incumbent upon them for disposal of waste products (such as fees) and to circumvent the regulations in force, at national and EU level.”
The report finds that:
- “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.”
EUROJUST calls on the EU to take serious action towards combating organised environmental crime, by developing better intelligence-gathering at Member State level and coordination of member states.
According to the President of Eurojust, Michèle Coninsx, and the leader of the Project Team on Environmental Crime, Leif Görts: “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.”
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