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EU plans environmental crime clampdown

02 February 2007, 22:35 CET

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission will seek to make it more difficult to get away with environmental crimes next week with plans for minimum sanctions across the European Union, an official said on Friday.

Under the proposals, minimum prison sentences and fines would be set across the 27-nation EU for people and companies that commit "serious offences" against the environment, the official said.

The aim is to put an end to discrepancies between member states' laws which make it much easier to get away with environmental crimes in some countries than in others.

Currently, the way that crimes such as dumping toxic substances or selling endangered species are defined and dealt with can vary greatly from one EU member to another.

The fight against environmental crimes took on new urgency after toxic waste from the Probo Koala cargo freighter was dumped in Abidjan last August killing 10 people.

The commission already proposed a similar package in 2001 but member states judged that it was not a matter for the EU executive because penal questions come exclusively under their authority.

As a result, member states adopted their own plans, but the European Court of Justice ruled in September 2005 that the commission does indeed have the right to make proposals on punishing crimes against the environment.

The commission's new proposals will be subject to a vote by qualified majority from the member states and approval from the European Parliament.

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