The Commission’s supporting actions include work under the Action Plan on environmental compliance and governance, preparing guidance documents, and providing a platform for strategic discussions including through the Environmental Compliance and Governance Forum. Close structured cooperation with networks of environmental enforcement practitioners is also established to align priorities, ensure that practical implementation challenges are considered in policy-making and legislative initiatives and strengthen compliance assurance work on the ground.
There is no single overarching EU instrument that governs environmental compliance assurance. Some legislative provisions exist on compliance monitoring dating back to Recommendation 2001/331/EC which provides minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States. The criteria were non-binding but very influential. They are reflected in binding inspection provisions found in the Industrial Emissions Directive, the Seveso III Directive and the Waste Shipment Regulation.
As regards enforcement, interpreting the general EU treaty provision to cooperate in good faith, the Court of Justice of the European Union has held that Member States are obliged, in respect of breaches of European law, to provide for sanctions in their legal systems that are effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Recent environmental directives contain standard penalty clauses based on these strictures. The Environmental Crime Directive goes further requiring Member States to have on their statute book criminal penalties for the most serious environmental offences. Reflecting the polluter pays principle, the Environmental Liability Directive requires Member States to operate a system of liability for environmental damage.
In parallel to the development of these instruments and provisions, relevant professionals in Member States expressed a strong interest in sharing experiences with each other and formed voluntary networks. From the 1990s on, the Commission has formally supported these networks.
Environmental Compliance and Governance Forum
In 2018, the Commission adopted an action plan to increase compliance with and improve governance on EU environmental rules. A Commission expert group, the ‘Environmental Compliance and Governance Forum’ was established to help steer the work and enable an exchange of views between professionals with responsibilities in the field of environmental compliance assurance.
The Forum is composed of representatives of Member States and representatives of European networks of compliance assurance practitioners and authorities, particularly environment agencies (NEPA), inspectorates (IMPEL), police officers (EnviCrimeNet), prosecutors (ENPE), and judges (EUFJE).
For more information on Forum meetings see here
- Information on 1st Forum meeting
- Information on 2nd Forum meeting
- Information on 3rd Forum meeting
- Information on 4th Forum meeting
- Information on 5th Forum meeting
- Information on 6th Forum meeting
Ongoing work (2020-2022)
The Forum approved a new work programme at its 4th meeting in February 2020.
- Guidance on combating environmental crimes and related infringements, available in different languages
- Summary guide on combating environmental crimes and related infringements
- Guidance on complaint-handling - Vade Mecum available in different languages.
- Summary guide on handling environmental complaints available in different languages
- Summary Guide and Vademecum on environmental compliance assurance in rural areas
- Technical guidelines inspections of extractive waste facilities
- Report - Training needs of IMPEL practitioners
- Assessment of Environmental Governance in the Member States - Study report and Member States reports
- Exploring the feasibility of an Environmental Implementation Portal - Study report
- Compilation of CJEU case law on Member States’ obligation to remedy failures to carry out environmental assessments.
Cooperation with networks
European environmental inspectors, police officers, prosecutors, judges have formed separate networks to enable knowledge, expertise and best practices to be shared. These voluntary networks of environmental compliance assurance practitioners have worked both individually and, more recently jointly, to support environmental compliance assurance. The Commission cooperates closely with these networks in order to ensure common priorities and better enforcement on the ground and to better take account of the needs of practitioners in its policy and legislative work. The Commission also provides financial support for the organisation and activities of the networks through its LIFE instrument.
Main European networks of environmental compliance assurance practitioners
Established in 1992, this is the oldest and most developed network. Its membership is drawn from all Member States and is made up of environmental authorities and environmental inspectorates at central or regional level. It also embraces candidate and potential candidate countries as well as EFTA members.
Established in 2011, this network mainly consists of national police officers specialised in combating environmental crime.
Founded in 2012, this brings together bodies responsible for criminal prosecutions (and, to some extent, applying administrative sanctions).
Founded in 2004, this brings together judges from across the EU, including those adjudicating in criminal as well as administrative and civil cases.
For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.