EU adopts revised Environmental Crime Directive: what are the advances for animals?


EU adopts revised Environmental Crime Directive: what are the advances for animals?

28 March 2024
On 26 March the Council of the EU endorsed the revised Environmental Crime Directive, strengthening penalties for behaviour negatively impacting the environment and wild animals. The Directive provides welcomed improvements to the current legal framework, but calls for stronger and more specific measures to be adopted by Member States when transposing the legislation.

Clarification of offences regarding animals

While the previous Directive addressed poaching and illegal trade of wild animals as offences, the new legislation provides additional information on their scope. Online trade is now expressly covered. The legislation also gives additional information on the species covered, detailing the lists of threatened species that should be considered. In line with the previous Directive, the law provides an exemption when the conduct concerns “a negligible quantity of specimens”. However, the new text specifies that elements must be taken into account when assessing this condition, including the conservation status of the species. We therefore ask Member States to enforce strict sanctions for offences concerning species threatened by wildlife trade or other circumstances affecting their populations, even when such offences concern only one or a few individuals.

Introduction of specific sanctions

The previous Directive provides minimal guidance on the penalties that should sanction the offences listed, providing that they must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”. The revised Directive is more specific, introducing sanctions for both natural and legal persons. In practice, Member States will have to ensure that the maximum sanctions for offences related to poaching and trading of animals are no less than three years imprisonment for natural persons and a fine corresponding to 3% of the total worldwide turnover for legal persons. These sanctions remain insufficient in light of the negative impact such behaviour has on biodiversity, conservation and animal welfare, but it is a significant step forward.

Management of confiscated animals

Although not legally binding, one recital of the legislation provides that Member States should ensure that frozen and confiscated proceeds and instrumentalities are appropriately managed, in line with their nature. In other words, Member States are encouraged to adopt further provisions to guarantee the welfare of confiscated animals. We call on Member States to further consider confiscated assets to cover the costs for the maintenance of these animals in appropriate conditions, at minimum during the proceedings.

Besides these improvements, we highlight the ambitions of the new Directive to tackle offences related to the environment as a whole. We hope that this revised framework will significantly deter harmful behaviour resulting in reduced degradation, improved environmental health and better living conditions for wild animals.