The European Commission can draft criminal penalties for environmental offenses within the 25-nation European Union.
the EU's Court of Justice ruled the Commission had the right to force member states to impose fines or jail terms on those who violate EU environmental rules.
The Commission welcomed the ruling, saying it boosted its power at the cost of EU governments.
The Commission took EU governments to court in 2001 seeking the right to set penalties for industrial polluters. The governments of member states wanted to preserve their right to set such penalties themselves, but the Commission argued that outlining criminal punishment was within its powers under EU law.
Protection of the environment "constitutes one of the essential objectives of the (EU) community," the ruling said.
The Commission said the decision could lead to it also drafting criminal penalties in other policy areas it controls, such as violations of internal market regulations, data protection and protection of intellectual property rights.
But the court ruling did not indicate whether the Commission had that right, the AP reports.