Citizens’ initiative aims to end ecocide in Europe

The destruction of ecosystems in Europe could be criminalised if campaigners are successful

Damaging ecosystems in Europe could become a crime if a new citizens’ initiative is successful in its year-long campaign to establish a continent-wide ecocide law.

The End Ecocide in Europe (EEE) initiative was set up by a committee of 11 citizens from nine European countries with the aim of criminalising ecocide through the creation of a European directive – a goal which member states must adhere to by adapting their laws.

The proposed legal definition of ecocide is “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of an ecosystem of a given territory,” which could include the impact of activities such as hydraulic fracking.

The ecocide directive would prohibit, prevent and pre-empt ecocide in any EU territory and committed by any EU citizens or EU registered companies. It would also cover the impact of products imported to the EU and financial investments made by EU banks, and would therefore have global repercussions.

Proposed as a European Citizens’ Initiative – a programme introduced in the EU in 2009 to enable citizens to propose EU legislation – EEE needs to collect one million signatures of support from at least seven different European countries.

“Once we have achieved our target, the European commission will have to consider our proposal,” said Valérie Cabanes, spokesperson for EEE. “If it is found compatible with the European legal frame, the commission will then submit the proposal to the European parliament who may agree to vote for a new directive. But we need European citizens to become a stronger lobby than industrial ones; we need to become a massive wave of change.”

Campaigners believe that a law in Europe would help ongoing efforts to make ecocide the fifth international crime against peace along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. This would mean that those committing ecocide would be tried by the International Criminal Court.

EEE launched at the European parliament in Brussels on 22 January 2013 and has until 21 January 2014 to collect enough signatures. So far over 18,000 European citizens have supported the initiative.

Environment lawyer Polly Higgins proposed the Law of Ecocide to the UN in April 2010, requesting that the Rome Statute be amended when it comes up for review in the next couple of years.

“Supporting the Law of Ecocide is a wonderful opportunity for the EU to uphold its belief in peace,” said Higgins. “The EU won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and a Law of Ecocide is a law that will carry us all forward into a world where business and politics work from the premise, ‘first do no harm’.”