EU should keep its nose out of our environmental policies

15 March 2007

EU should keep its nose out of our environmental policies

The European Commission wants to set punishments for environmental crimes. Although it's sensible to have a European approach to environmental problems, this proposal goes too far. The EU should not be interfering in Dutch criminal law, say Members of Parliament Jan de Wit and Harry van Bommel.

The protection of the environment in the Netherlands could be improved, for example through better enforcement of the rules and more severe punishments for polluters. This, however, is a matter for the Dutch legislator. Even the best proposals should not be laid down from on high by Brussels. The fight for a better environment is one which we in the Netherlands must conduct for ourselves. The member states of the European Union determine for themselves how they arrange their criminal law. In the Treaty on European Union it is agreed that a change in the framework of European cooperation can only be decided by the member states themselves in discussion with each other.

The European Commission can make proposals, but it is for the member states themselves to decide. There is of course no reason why they should not take decisions in the direction of harmonisation, but the Netherlands must not be instructed so to do. Harmonisation might, moreover, mean that countries such as the Netherlands which have been in the forefront would be forced under pressure from other member states to adjust to less exacting punishments.

The Commission is obviously not happy with its subordinate role. Commissioners seem to believe that they are better placed to determine what is an appropriate punishment than are the member states. We in the Netherlands have our own way of conducting judicial affairs, using administrative measures where other countries might invoke the criminal law. The Commission must accept this and not interfere.

The Commission is continually seeking ways of enhancing its power and control. It is for this reason that it has asserted a right to take measures related to criminal law as it affects the environment, health care or the economy, winning a case in the European Court of Justice against the member states, the ECJ ruling that it does indeed, in extreme cases, have the right to influence the criminal law in order to enforce environmmental policy.

The influence of Brussels on the criminal law undermines our national democracy. The Dutch legislator has the power to determine for his- or herself what we find unacceptable and how we feel it should be punished. It is a good thing that the European Commission addresses scandals such as the Probo Koala affair, but we will not sit idly by while a big brother instructs us as to what punishments we must inflict on the kind of criminals responsible.

Harry van Bommel and Jan de Wit are respectively the spokesmen on European and Legal affairs for the SP. This article first appeared in BN / De Stem on 21st February, 2007

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