HANDS UP! POLLUTERS UNDER ARREST! The new environmental crimes directive and the opposition to the green agenda. What will change with the European election?

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By Aurora Forlai

The new directive on environmental crimes: harsher sanctions and an extended list of offences have been approved by the MEPs. How will the groups behave on environmental issues in the next legislature?

The new directive: harsher sanctions and new crimes

The new directive on environmental crimes was approved on February 27 with a large majority: 499 votes in favour, 100 against and 23 abstentions. The directive was agreed upon with the Council last November 16th, and it aimed to contrast the damage to the environment through criminal law. In order to do so, a new extended list of offences has been created: it includes illegal timber trade, mercury use, depletion of water resources, serious breaches of EU chemicals legislation and pollution caused by ships.  Furthermore, the new directives move in two different directions: against companies that don’t respect the law and against those directly responsible for the offences.

Companies which will be found guilty by the national judges of an environmental crime will have to face a fine between 3 and 5% of annual worldwide turnover, depending on the decision of each member state, of worldwide turnover or 40 million euros depending on the nature of the crime. As the European Parliament rapporteur Antonius Manders (EPP, NL) said during the press conference: “Under this agreement, polluters will pay”.

The other direction of the directive is even more innovative and quite unique, and it is considered one of the major steps toward the prevention and contrast of environmental crime: the introduction of stricter sanctions for qualified offences. The qualified offences are some particularly severe offences that destroy an ecosystem or a habitat. These offences are comparable to ecocide even though the directive does not include this word directly. For this type of breaches, the directive has established prison sentences up to 8 years, but if the crime has caused the death of a person the sentence grows up to 10 years.

Why is it important to fight against environmental crimes?

Environmental crimes are in the top 5 of the most profitable crimes in Europe for organized crime, just after drug trafficking and human trafficking. For organized crime, environmental offences are perfectly suitable: they offer high profit and they are very difficult “to detect, prosecute and punish”.  Environmental crimes, moreover, are dangerous not only for the natural habitats because they damage biodiversity and cause increased levels of pollution, but also for the well-being of humans.

Who opposed the new directive? 

The new directive has received a large majority but there is always some opposition. In this case, most of the 100 votes against the new directive came from the parliamentary groups Identity and Democracy (ID) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). That’s not the first time we have seen the right wing in opposition to the EU green policy, to make a case we could name the Nature Restoration law which was approved by the MEPs on the same day as the new directive on environmental crimes, but receiving a wider opposition (EPP, ID, ECR)  and that has caused various protests by the agricultural sector all over Europe.

What is the relationship between the right parties and the green agenda? What will happen in the 2024 election? 

The 2019 EU election saw the so-called “green wave”, the environmental party reached a double-digit score in Europe’s biggest country, to 20% in Germany. The 2024 election  will probably show different results: the last Eurobarometer (autumn 2023) shows how environmental and climate change are perceived to be just at the fifth position of the most important issues the EU is facing at the moment. This means that even if environmental and climate change are very politicized at the EU level, on 6-9 June 2024, people won’t vote thinking about who can better address the need for a clean energy transition and mitigate the climate change effect but looking at the immigration problem and the consequences of the Ukraine war, that will be more decisive.

Source: Eurobarometer, European Union

The rise of far-right, right and centre-right parties In the European parliament is almost given for sure by all the main projections. For example, the projection of the Euractiv journal shows a decrease in Green’s share of seats and a rise in the ID, ECR and EPP. EPP, following this projection, will lose some seats but will keep being the biggest group in the parliament and will probably have the opportunity to choose the next European Commission president.

Source: Euractiv

The rise of the right wing of the parliament is already worrying for the green Agenda but what’s more alarming is that in the first drafts of the EPP manifesto environmental policy rarely appear, and when they do, they are centred on economic competition. We will probably see a shift to a more conservative position and “ a move from a Green Deal to an “Economic Deal””.

On the opposite side of the ring of the climate fight, there will be of course The Greens, who have entitled their manifesto “the courage to change”  and the Left, which has a similar position to the Green’s one.

Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have also shown support for further cuts in carbon emissions and other green policies. On their website, you can read: “The climate emergency is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, and our response to it will determine our future. We helped get the Green Deal for Europe – to make our planet the key priority and set out plans for how to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 – while leaving no one behind.”

We can’t know with certainty what will happen in the next 5 years, but we know that they’ll be determining the future of our planet. The question we have to keep in mind during June’s elections is: Which future do we want?

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