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Directive 2008/99/EC of 19 November 2008 on the protection of the environment through criminal law: A new start for criminal law in the European Community?

Armelle Gouritin and Paul De Hert

elni Review 2009, Issue 1,  pp. 22-27. https://doi.org/10.46850/elni.2009.003

Setting the framework for the protection of the environment through criminal law at the EC level ultimately leads to the adoption of Directive 2008/99/EC of 19 November 2008 on the protection of the environment through criminal law. The Directive establishes a minimum set of conducts that should be considered criminal offences throughout the EU when unlawful and committed intentionally (or with at least serious negligence). Inciting, aiding and abetting of such conducts will equally be considered a criminal offence. Directive 2008/99/EC must be implemented by Member States by 26 December 2010. Its adoption has been a debated and lengthy process. These debates occurred at the EU level (institutional conflict) and member state level, and were reflected into the legal scholars work. These debates concerned not as much the specific content of the Directive, but the institutional framework and in particular the use made of criminal law provisions in a first pillar legal instrument, as opposed to the normal use for these purposes of instruments provided for in the third pillar of the EU (police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters). The Directive, therefore, seemingly deviates from the general rule that “neither criminal law nor the rules of criminal procedure fall within the Community’s competence”. The Directive follows a Court of Justice’s decision of 13 September 2005 (Case C176/03) to annul an EU Framework Decision on the protection of the environment on the grounds that it had been adopted on an erroneous legal basis. In its decision the Court upheld the Commission's submission, holding that the Commission may take measures in relation to the Member States' criminal law where the application of criminal penalties is an essential measure for combating serious environmental offences. Hence, a Directive, a first pillar instrument, including criminal law provisions could be adopted. This article discusses the Directive’s institutional background and looks at the criminal law provisions in the Directive. It ends with a critical note on the presumed impact of the Directive.

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