The Way Forward
It would be easy to conclude that environmental crime could simply be fought by introducing environmentally harmful behaviour in the penal codes of EU member states and punishing such behaviour with stiff penalties (i.e. lengthy prison sentences). To some degree, this is indeed a recommendation of the EFFACE research project. For instance, EFFACE recommends that ‘higher sanctions [should be imposed] when the environmental crime occurs in the context of organised crime’ (Faure et al. 2016, p. 12). As our case studies indicate, whenever organized crime is behind environmental crime, numerous other crimes are committed at the same time. For reasons of deterrence, the imposition of stricter penalties therefore seems obvious, despite the well-known harmful effects of prisons (Christie 2007).
However, as Faure points out in Chap. 2 of this volume, the EU and its member states have already come a long way from largely neglecting environmental crime and relegating it to administrative law (though with added criminal provisions) to introducing environmental crime in penal codes, partially due to the EU’s passing of the Environmental Crime Directive in 2008. Yet as he also convincingly argues, there is some value in linking administrative law and criminal law, as it allows prosecutors and judges to choose from an array of penalties, ranging from administrative fines and payment of damages to lengthy prison sentences. Prosecuting environmental crime merely through the penal code is expensive and therefore leads to low conviction rates, which ultimately fail to deter would-be criminals. Prosecuting environmental crime also through administrative and civil law might therefore be more effective.
Taking into account how lucrative environmental crime can be, it seems appropriate to hit perpetrators hardest where it hurts them most—in their pockets. EFFACE, therefore, recommends that ‘rules on the confiscation and forfeiture of the proceeds of environmental crime should be adopted at the EU level’ (Faure et al. 2016, p. 12). Restoration of harms means that environmental crime will not pay (i.e. if detected). Hence, not just criminal sanctions can provide the ‘effective, dissuasive and proportional’ sanctions that the Environmental Crime Directive demands; financial penalties might be effective as well (Faure et al. 2016, p. 14). There is accordingly room to apply the EU’s Environmental Liability Directive to cases of environmental crime (Faure et al. 2016, p. 15).
Nevertheless, any talk about appropriate penalties is premature if the prosecution of environmental crimes is lacking. The case studies show that prosecution rates vary significantly across EU member states. The variance owes much to loopholes and convoluted legal provisions in the member states. Clarifying environmental laws would be a first step towards more effective prosecution. Furthermore, environmental crime should receive the political priority and financial resources it deserves. The creation of specialized agencies for the prosecution and adjudication of environmental crimes—so far lacking in most member states—would then be possible (Faure et al. 2016, p. 23). In addition, prosecution would be much improved if victims of environmental crime and their NGOs would have formal recognition and public support. As the case studies demonstrate, NGOs have played a pivotal role in raising public and political awareness and calling out perpetrators of environmental crime. In countries outside of the EU (see the Armenian and Kosovo case studies), they are often the only effective guardians of the environment.
Outside of the EU, the EU and its member states should assume a strong role as advocates for stricter international treaties on environmental crime and help signatories to these treaties fulfil their international obligations by providing legal, financial, and technical support (Faure et al. 2016, pp. 27-8.). It would help as well if the EU reprimanded those signatories to already existing treaties that are in violation of their international obligations. The weight of the EU’s assessment is of course enhanced if these countries have also signed bilateral treaties with the EU. Armenia’s frequent disregard of the Aarhus Convention is not a trivial offense. It is a violation of Armenia’s constitution and severely undermines the role of environmental NGOs (see Chap. 8).
What has not been discussed much within the EFFACE project is the ability and need to remove the incentives for environmentally harmful behaviour. The case studies show that environmental crime is driven by economic incentives which are partially related to the unnecessary demand for environmentally harmful goods such as electronics and ivory. That is not to say that the world should do without computers and smart phones (although it could definitely do without ivory products and the killing or capturing of endangered species), but the production of these electronics must take place with the goal of producing as little toxic and other waste materials as possible (see Chap. 6). Furthermore, awareness campaigns should help consumers to make more sustainable choices. In short, environmental policies should be rethought, going beyond the simple increase of criminal enforcement and stiffer penalties, by addressing, where possible, the dynamics behind the demand and the supply sides of both the legal and the illegal markets (Hayman and Brack 2002). Moreover, the introduction of market institutions that internalize the external costs of environmental crimes and overcome the Tragedy of the Commons might help to discourage environmentally harmful behaviour. The introduction of rights-based management systems, as discussed in Chap. 4, might be a step in the right direction.
Environmental crime has only in recent years entered the political discourse in the EU and its member states. Hence, much of the debate proceeds without a solid empirical foundation, which suggests that policy recommendations must be made with a grain of salt. The EFFACE project and this volume have tried to close some of the empirical gaps in the debate. Yet, the editors and contributors are humble enough to acknowledge that our contribution is a small one. We therefore conclude with our other colleagues of the EFFACE project that European authorities must do a better job gathering empirical evidence about environmental crime and sharing it with their colleagues, policy analysts, and the academic community (Faure et al. 2016, pp. 13—4). The fight against environmental crime is a vital one. It can only succeed with consolidated and profound knowledge of the subject matter.