For those unfamiliar with the term, Eurojust is the agency of the European Union dealing with judicial co-operation in criminal matters. It is composed of 28 National Members, one from each of the European Union’s Member States. National Members are seconded in accordance with their respective legal systems and are judges, prosecutors or police officers of equivalent competence.
The origins of the Strategic Project on Environmental Crime may be found on the
‘Increasing understanding that environmental crime is a serious crime, often involving a cross‐border dimension and organised crime groups (OCGs)’,
‘statistics on prosecutions of environmental crime in the Member States did not appear to reflect the real impact of this crime.’
The report analyses the main problems encountered by the national authorities in prosecuting environmental crime and attempts to present suggestions for addressing some difficulties, particularly those linked to cross‐border cooperation.
Trafficking in endangered animals is one of the areas looked at. Illegal trafficking of waste and surface water pollution are also analysed. Therefore, it is important to note that the conclusions are applicable to these three areas.
The report is well worth the reading, and I strongly suggest that you do if you are interested in how illegal wildlife trade is handled in the EU at the level of prosecution.
Here below you will find a brief summary. Most of the information in this post is citations directly taken form one part or another of the report.
Before listing the problems identified, there are a couple of ideas that I would like to stress:
- There has been identified an increase of international trade and the abolition of border controls within the Schengen area add to the scope of the problem. For those who are unaware, under the Schengen agreement transiting from one country to another within the Schengen area is done without border controls. In fact, the Schengen visa makes it possible to visit all the countries in the Schengen area and to cross internal borders without further formalities. The 26 countries belonging to this area are those that belong to the European Union EXCEPT for UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. In addition, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are also part of the Schengen area.
- Its seriousness is still often underestimated at national and international level.
I believe both points can be applied to many other regions or countries in the world.
The problems identified in the Report are the following:
- Complexity of legislation relating to protection of endangered species;
- Level of seriousness and penalties associated with trafficking in endangered species;
- Insufficient coordination among competent authorities at national and international level;
- Burden of proof and evidence gathering is challenging, especially when other Member States or third countries are involved;
- Links to Organised crime (OCGs): A majority of Member States stated… that links to OCGs have been proven in their cases. However, surprisingly … few prosecutors had experience in practicing European/international cooperation in this field. It appeared that links to systematic poaching or trafficking and OCGs are often not investigated.
It is interesting for me to see that these are many of the issues that I managed to identify during the research for my Master thesis. Even though I am writing about the different enforcement systems in Spain, Belgium and UK, all these five factors have appeared in the country I am studying so far.
The Report also draws a set of conclusions and proposals for the future which in my opinion are obvious.
- Environmental crime needs to be considered and treated as a serious crime area in particular when it contains cross‐border elements. Environmental crime damages the environment, poses great risks to the health and wellbeing of human beings and the integrity of biodiversity, and undermines, in its organised form, the rule of law and sustainable development.
- Specialist knowledge is required through the involvement and availability of independent experts for investigations and prosecutions, and through a certain level of expertise in the specific areas within law enforcement and prosecutorial personnel. Investigative resources must be secured and more training/information sessions for investigators and prosecutors and judges are essential.
- A multidisciplinary approach is essential to fighting environmental crime and that, to tackle it efficiently, organised and systematic inter‐agency collaboration and coordination needs to be developed and sustained at national, European and at international level.
- As legislation of the different Member States in this area is not harmonised, in particular in terms of penalties, Member States often struggle to use similarly coercive investigative techniques to those used in other serious crime areas. An alternative suggested by practitioners is to investigate those crimes under the label ‘organised crime’ and/or to use specific tools such as the Naples II Convention, to enable a broader spectrum of investigative techniques.
- The sharing of best practices and of expertise is essential in environmental cross‐border cases.
- Intelligence gathering should become automatic.
- Coordination of investigations and prosecutions should be carried out on a more regular basis through the early involvement of Eurojust.
I have no doubt that the Member States will agree with all this, however, the question remains if there is enough political will at EU level or at national level to provide for all that is needed.