The European directive of April 21, 2004 on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage established a general environmental liability regime. This directive was transposed into French law by the law of August 1, 2008 relating to environmental liability and various provisions of adaptation to Community law in the environmental field. Nevertheless, since its adoption, this law has quite bit implemented, and this had even been reproached by the European Commission in July 2020 which put France on notice for poor implementation of the 2004 directive. However, it is recently that it had to be implemented following a pollution caused by a company. 

It is the Tereos sugar factory (Hauts-de-France, France), which in April 2020, following an accidental breach of a dam of one of its production sites has led to the spill of nearly 100,000 cubic meters of water that contained toxic organic materials. This spill flowed into the Scheldt and caused asphyxiation of the aquatic environment, resulting in the death of thousands of fish and the degradation of the fauna. A steering committee was set up by the State including the French Office of Biodiversity, local elected officials, environmental protection associations, and others in order to assess the impacts of this pollution in the most reliable way with external analysis.

In the end, the environmental liability regime resulting from the 2008 law was retained, with articles L160-1 and following of the Environmental French Code, which stipulates that an operator responsible for environmental damage must repair the damage caused. However, primary reparation, or in other words reparation in kind, could not be implemented here, so a secondary and compensatory reparation solution had to be found. The company Tereos will have to take measures to restore the fauna in order to accelerate the natural regeneration of the places affected by the pollution. But it will also have to take measures to study and identify the risks on its other production sites and make the necessary repairs if necessary by the end of 2024.

The Tereos site is therefore under surveillance since the implementation of this prefectoral decree of August 31, 2021 to ensure that the measures prescribed for repair and general monitoring are well respected.

This case is therefore one of the rare illustrations of the implementation of environmental responsibility applied to companies in France. It is quite surprising to see that this regime is so little applied, and it is legitimate to wonder if there is little application because there are few environmental impacts to be sanctioned under environmental liability, or if it is a legislative deficiency and that consequently the impacts are not sanctioned? However, this is a sensitive question and it is complicated to answer. But we can say that the less environmental responsibility there is to implement, the less pollution and impacts on the environment take place, which is a good thing in the end. Nevertheless, it could be criticized the lack of dissuasive aspect of this regime, with this example of the Tereos case, no fine as a sanction has been imposed. Even if fines are not a perfect solution, it could influence companies to have an increased vigilance, as the principle of prevention and precaution wants, of their sites and thus avoid industrial accidents of the kind.