The Court handed down its judgment in Case C-176/03 Commission v. Council.
The Commission was successful in its action for the annulment of Council Framework Decision 2003/80/JHA of 27 January 2003 on the protection of the environment through criminal law. That Framework Decision lays down a certain number of environmental offences for which member States are required to prescribe criminal penalties by law. It was adopted by the Council on the basis of Title VI of the Treaty on European Union.The Commission had adopted a proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law based on Article 175 of the EC Treaty. But the Council refused to adopt it because it claimed that the Community could not prescribe criminal penalties and instead adopted its Framework Decision. The Commission claimed that the Framework Directive fell within the proper scope of the European Community's powers on the environment.
The Court found in favor of the Commission and annulled the Framework decision. It held that the Framework Decision infringes Article 47 of the Treaty on European Union because it encroaches on the powers which Article 175 EC grant to the Community. The Court recalled that in principle neither criminal law nor the rules on criminal procedure fall within the Community's competence. However, the Community may, when the application of effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties by national authorities is an essential measure for combating serious environmental offences, take measures which relate to the criminal laws of the member States to ensure that the rules it lays down on environmental protection are fully effective.
This judgment is the first time the Court has expressly stated that the Community has the power require member States to adopt criminal legislation.