De Wit: Europe must not interfere in Dutch criminal law

9 February 2007

De Wit: Europe must not interfere in Dutch criminal law

“The European Commission is trying to interfere in Dutch criminal law in a way which is completely unacceptable," says SP Member of Parliament and legal affairs spokesman Jan de Wit. Mr De Wit was reacting to the attempt by Brussels to determine the severity of punishment which member states must impose in the event of environmental crime. “The European Commission seems to believe that it is in a better position to come up with suitable punishments than are the member states. We in the Netherlands have what is entirely our own criminal code, one which also covers environmental crimes, and in our opinion the Commission should keep its nose out of this."

Jan de WitThe SP has long fought for improvements to environmental protection, for stronger punishments for polluters and better implementation of the rules. Criminal law is, however, in the SP's view a matter for the Dutch legislator. “Even the best proposals from Brussels cannot simply be enforced from on high. This is a battle we in the Netherlands must fight for ourselves.”

The member states have full responsibility for their own criminal law, its organisation and implementation. In the Treaty on European Union it is clearly laid down that any change in the framework of European cooperation can be agreed only by the member states themselves in discussion with each other. The European Commission can make proposals, but only the member states can decide whether these are acceptable. “We have of course no objection to agreements being made which lead to harmonisation, but the Netherlands must not have harmonisation imposed," De Wit said.

The Commission is clearly not happy with any kind of subordinate role and continually seeks more power and more control. It is in this spirit that it is proposing that it should indeed be allowed to intervene in the criminal law of the member states as it relates to the environment, health care or those economic affairs for which the EU institutions are 'competent' – where they have the right to make policy. The Commission has already won a case in the European Court of Justice which relates to this, when the Court ruled that the Commission could indeed, in certain extreme instances, bring influence to bear on the criminal law of a member state in order to uphold European environmental policy.

The SP has twice brought forward motions in our national parliament in an attempt to reverse this centralising trend. Any influence from the European Commission on criminal law undermines national democracy. “The people of the Netherlands must determine for ourselves what we believe should be illegal and how crimes should be punished," De Wit insisted. "This conforms to the existing agreement in Europe and we must make sure it stays that way. I have no problem if the European Commission wants to address scandalous matters such as the Probo Koala, but this doesn't mean we want or expect some kind of big brother to come along and tell us what sort of punishments we should give to what sort of criminals. The SP firmly believes that the implementation of environmental law must be improved and sanctions on polluters strengthened, but this is a matter for the Netherlands and the national authorities in the other member states. We work a great deal through administrative means of implementation and suffer from a shortage of relevant expertise, so in the case of the Netherlands the Commission's proposal entirely missed the point. It would be a symbolic piece of legislation."

De Wit is asking the Minister of Justice to clarify the proposal and the government's response to it. His question will be discussed during next week's parliamentary session.

You are here