Sweden to push for tough penalties against polluters

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Series Details Vol 7, No.2, 11.1.01, p6
Publication Date 11/01/2001
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Date: 11/01/01

By John Shelley

THE Swedish presidency is reviving plans to put in place new Union-wide rules outlawing serious environmental crime before the EU takes in new members.

Stockholm hopes to push through during its stint at the Union helm proposals originally put forward by the Danish that would require every member state to punish polluters. The plans have been languishing for a year but Sweden believes now is the time to breathe new life into them because of an increasing perception among EU governments that they must get basic green rules on their statute books before more environmentally-lax applicant countries join the Union.

"I think that everybody sees this as a first step to having something in place when enlargement comes," said one EU diplomat.

With enlargement and the environment making up two of the Swedish presidency's three stated policy priorities, brokering agreement on the plans would be a significant prize for Stockholm.

Under the proposed rules, an early version of which was tabled by Copenhagen in January 2000, all Union nations would be obliged to make various types of polluting a criminal offence. These are likely to include emitting, releasing or disposing of substances which create a significant risk of death or serious injury to people or which cause substantial damage to plants, animals or property.

Producing, storing or transporting radioactive substances that are liable to cause death, injury or damage are also likely to become EU-wide offences, as is running a pollution-producing factory.

The proposed rules would also oblige member states to ensure that under their respective laws both individuals and companies can be punished either with prison sentences or with substantial fines. But they will steer clear of setting exact or even approximate punishments, instead insisting merely that member states enact 'effective and proportionate' sanctions.

Diplomats say getting the laws approved should be an easy victory for the Swedish. Union countries already signed up to the principle of judicial action in the environment field at the Tampere summit in 1999, and many of the details have already been hammered out before the start of the presidency.

"All they really need to do now is tie up the details and make sure the rules are compatible with existing EU environment laws," said one.

The environmental crimes package is also likely to include measures to help member states cooperate in punishing polluters, and rules on which country shall have jurisdiction in cases where environmental damage runs across borders.

The Swedish Presidency is reviving plans to put in place new Union-wide rules outlawing serious environmental crime before the EU takes in new members.

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