European Parliament agrees on the recognition of ecocide in EU legislation

European Parliament agrees on the recognition of ecocide in EU legislation
Amazon fires, credit: WWF Brazil/Michael Dantas

Members of the political groups in the European Parliament welcomed on Wednesday the decision to start interinstitutional negotiations on the revision of the EU directive on environmental crimes with a mandate to include ecocide in the new legislation.

The decision followed the vote by the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) in March when it with 22 votes unanimously agreed to add new offences to the list of environmental crimes punishable at the EU level and calling for harsher sanctions for offenders.

The legal committee, which is in charge of the file, was the fifth parliamentary committee which voted in favor of the recognition of ecocide in the revised EU Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law. In previous votes, the proposal has been backed by the Parliament’s Committees on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Environment, Development and Petitions.

There was no vote in the full plenary of the Parliament but the legislative report adopted unanimously in the Legal Affairs Committee passed without objections by any of the political groups, according to rule 71 in the Parliament’s rules of procedure. The Parliament can now start interinstitutional negotiations on the basis of the report.

“The damage caused by environmental crime has a deep impact on human health and the health of our planet,”  commented MEP Antonious Manders (EPP,NL), the rapporteur in the legal affairs committee. “It is crucial that we fight these cross-border crimes at the EU level with dissuasive and effective sanctions: the polluter pays.”

The committee report mentions explicitly the crime of ecocide in the recitals:

“When an environmental criminal offence causes severe and widespread, or severe and long-term, or severe and irreversible damage to the quality of air, the quality of soil or the quality of water, or to biodiversity, to ecosystem services and functions, or to animals or plants, such offence should be considered a crime of particular gravity, and sanctioned as such in accordance with the legal systems of the Member States, covering ecocide, for which the United Nations are currently working on an official international definition.”

One of the amendments to the Commission’s legislative proposal equires the EU member states to introduce a crime of ecocide in their national law using the same definition as proposed in June 2021 by an expert panel brought together by the Stop Ecocide Foundation.

As previously reported, the expert panel proposed to amend the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and include ecocide alongside other international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. A new article was proposed to be added to the statues of the ICC where ecocide is defined as follows:

“For the purpose of this Statute, "ecocide" means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

"It took more than 50 years of international discussions for the subject of the recognition of ecocide, the most serious crimes against the environment, to be seriously put on the table,” commented MEP Marie Toussaint (Greens/EFA, FR), founder of the International Alliance of Parliamentarians against ecocide.

“The recognition of ecocide was first put on the table of the international community by the Europeans themselves, through the voice of Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden in 1972, at the opening of the first major international Earth Summit,” she reminded. Closing the circle, Sweden is currently in charge of the EU Presidency.

“The European Parliament is marking a historic step forward in this long struggle. All the political groups in the European Parliament are now calling for the inclusion of ecocide in our national law and its recognition at UN level.”

Law professor Philippe Sands, co-chair of the expert panel, welcomed the Parliament’s decision.It is greatly encouraging that the European Parliament is taking the concept of ecocide seriously, in making provision in EU law for the gravest crimes against the environment - I express the hope that the Parliament will at the very least build on this text, if not take it further.”

“As with genocide and crimes against humanity in 1945, the global community is today faced with a new kind of threat: severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment, of a kind that breaches existing legal obligations and corresponds to the emerging concept of ecocide.”

Until now, the European Commission has been reluctant to include ecocide in the revised directive on the protection of the environment through environmental law. Asked by The Brussels Times if the Commission will reconsider its position, a spokesperson replied that its proposal aims at making the legislation against environmental crime more focused but it does not include specifically ecocide.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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