Will new EU crime directive be a game changer for wild animals?

Born Free is encouraging progressive revision to current weak European legislation, to help prevent wildlife crime including trafficking of rare species.

Two spider monkeys desperately clinging to the bars of a cage

The European Union (EU) is in the process of finalising an important piece of legislation aiming to combat serious environmental crime including wildlife trafficking, by setting dissuasive sanctions for criminals.

Why should we care about the revision of the EU Environmental Crime Directive?

Every year, many thousands of internationally protected wild animals are traded illegally. The EU plays a key role in this illicit trade as a source, transit hub and marketplace for wildlife products. With this in mind, the EU is in the process of finalising an important piece of legislation aiming to combat serious environmental crime including wildlife trafficking, by setting dissuasive sanctions for criminals.

This EU Directive could be a game changer for the protection of countless beautiful, iconic animal victims of this odious illegal trade, such as African lions, tigers, elephants, and rhinos, as well as other protected species native to the EU. But nothing has yet been finalised.

EU is central focus point for illegal wildlife trade

As a key importer and transit hub for illegally traded wildlife, the EU has a real impact on the conservation of biodiversity at a global level. Innumerable mammals, reptiles, birds and other internationally protected species are taken live from the wild to fuel the illegal pet market, or are killed for their body parts, notably for food and traditional medicine.

Given the illicit nature of these activities, these poor animals typically suffer from the moment of their capture through their transportation in awful conditions. Traffickers pay no regard for animal welfare and biosecurity, and as a consequence, in addition to adding pressure to already threatened populations and species, their activities create the perfect conditions for the emergence, spread and spill-over of zoonotic diseases.

Current penalties for EU wild crime not strong enough 

Currently, sanctions for serious environmental crimes such as wildlife trafficking are weak across the EU, in spite of the fact that an EU Directive to punish environmental crimes has already been in place since 2008. Sadly, the current Directive is poorly implemented and the sanction levels are too low to have any real deterrent effect on criminals.

Criminals typically see environmental crime as a highly profitable activity with very high potential gains and very low risks of being convicted or seriously penalised. It is therefore no wonder that wildlife and environmental crime keeps rising at a fast pace, considered today to be the fourth largest organised global crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking.

New improved legislation on its way? 

The EU legislation currently being finalised by its legislators – the European Commission, Parliament and Council – aims to revise the 2008 Directive and address its weaknesses. However, while the establishment of truly dissuasive and consistent sanctions should be a key goal, Member States composing the Council are putting up some resistance and pushing for sanction levels lower than those initially proposed by the Commission and supported by the Parliament, which align with international standards.

The Council also wants to provide more flexibility to Member States in the implementation and enforcement of the legislation. This risks ruining the objective to homogenise rules across the EU, and could lead to criminals taking advantage of countries with weaker rules.

Born Free advocates progressive revision of weak Directive 

Once the EU legislators have finalised the revised text, it is expected to be put to a final vote in December. Relying on its many years of experience fighting wildlife trafficking, Born Free is working with a of group of environmental, conservation and animal protection organisations who are actively advocating for a progressive revision of the Directive that will establish truly consistent and deterrent sanctions, alongside measures to secure its robust implementation.

We are also vigorously promoting the inclusion of provisions guaranteeing the protection and rights of all whistleblowers, victims, witnesses and other collaborators of justice in the context of reporting, investigation and participation in proceedings.

If these improvements are not realised, the failings of the current Directive will be repeated, and the EU will continue to passively contribute to the illegal and unnecessary killing and suffering of countless animals around the world. We hope that EU decision-makers will heed our calls; the future of many iconic species could depend on it.

Images © Michelle_Venter via Pixabay

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