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Organised Crime and Environmental Crime: An Analysis of EU Legal Instruments


Organised environmental crime is a serious crime committed by organized crime groups that often has a transnational dimension that requires the cooperation of the EU institutions and their Member States with Third countries and international organisations.. This organised environmental crime challenges the traditional definition of organised crime since it is now responding to a new market order. Organised crime criminals act as brokers providing highly specialized services to customers throughout the world, communicating through new technologies of information and escaping the traditional forms of crime prevention and repression. At the same time, these criminals are easily replaceable and not their structures that are challenging criminal and administrative approaches to dismantle their networks.

Even though the EU has not yet adopted concrete measures to combat organised environmental crime, the new Article 83 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allows the EU to adopt directives in areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension. In the future, the Council may unanimously decide to add serious environmental crimes to the list of organised crimes. Until then, as the former Commissioner for the Environment has put it: the main responsibility for fighting organised environmental crime is with the Member States.

The adoption of a legal instrument addressing organised environmental crime is not on the EU legislative agenda even though the European Parliament has made some proposals. A package of non-binding instruments on organised crimes adopted by EU institutions is establishing the basic concepts for organised environmental crime. Moreover, it could be the basis for a future EU criminal policy on organised environmental crime, especially for those iconic crimes such as illegal trafficking of endangered species that have been the object of resolutions of the European Parliament and also of international institutions. Despite the fact that the principal EU instruments dedicated to fighting organised crime do not address directly the specific organised environmental crime, they have left some room for an extensive interpretation of the goals to be achieved and have detailed in annexes the “other serious crimes” that could be addressed when required.

In the case of organised crime, the EU institutions are dealing with legal problems at the domestic and international levels that have hampered the enforcement of the legal instruments fighting against this type of criminality. There is a problem of conceptualization of organised crime that also affects the way the EU approaches environmental crime and organised environmental crime. The proximity between them leads the instruments and institutions to refer to both with the same terminology, the most general environmental crime prevailing over the specific forms of organised crimes, such as the illegal waste trafficking.

The European institutions are also considering adopting an administrative approach to prevent and combat organised crime complementary to the criminal system to overcome the new challenges that the flexible structures of organised crime poses to traditional proceedings.