The European Commission has ordered the UK to adopt stricter EU rules to tackle sea pollution and other environmental offences such as the illegal shipment of waste.
The Commission has given the UK, as well as Austria and Finland, two months to incorporate the rules into national law or face the threat of hefty penalties.
The warning takes the form of a reasoned opinion, the second step of EU infringement proceedings. In the absence of a satisfactory response within two months, the Commission may refer the countries to the EU's Court of Justice.
Directive 2008/99/EC includes a list of breaches which have to be considered a criminal offence in all Member States, such as the illegal shipment of waste or the trade in endangered species.
The Directive should have been introduced into national law by 26 December 2010. However, 11 countries have so far failed to do so. In June 2011, the Commission sent warnings to eight Member States: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia.
The Commission has also closed cases today against four Member States after they transposed EU anti-sea pollution rules into national law. For Italy, the case concerned Directive 2008/99/EC, while for Finland and Slovakia it was Directive 2009/123/EC, which requires Member States to consider serious and illicit discharges of polluting substances from ships as a criminal offence. For Romania, the case involved both Directives.
Directive 2008/99/EC on protecting the environment through criminal law aims to ensure that criminal law measures are available in all Member States to react to serious breaches of EU rules on environmental protection.
Directive 2009/123/EC (amending Directive 2005/35/EC) on ship-source pollution is part of a set of EU rules to reinforce maritime safety and help prevent pollution from ships.
Both directives require Member States to ensure that criminal offences are punishable with "effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties."
Failure by Member States to implement the Directives makes it impossible to have common minimum criminal law rules for serious breaches of EU legislation on the protection of the environment and against ship-source pollution. Such EU wide rules are essential to prevent loopholes which could otherwise be exploited by perpetrators of environmental crimes.