‘Toxic bloc’ summit welcome, but no substitute for legal action

Environment ministers from nine EU Member States are being hauled to Brussels to answer questions about their failure to cut air pollution. European Commissioner Vella will meet ministers from the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom at a special mini-summit next week.[1]

The EEB welcomes the fact that air quality is being prioritised by the Commission but warns further discussions must not come at the expense of legal action to enforce EU protections in court.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is the largest network of environmental citizens’ organizations in Europe with around 140 members in more than 30 countries.

Margherita Tolotto, EEB Policy Officer said

“People across Europe have a right to clean and healthy air, yet limits that were agreed in the 90s are still not being met. While we welcome Commissioner Vella calling in ministers from this ‘toxic bloc’ to explain themselves, this meeting must not come at the expense of infringement proceedings.”

EU air pollution limits are currently being broken in at least 130 cities in 23 countries, exposing European citizens to health-harming emissions that are particularly damaging to the most vulnerable in society such as children.

According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is responsible for almost 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.[2] Air pollution is also linked to a range of health problems including cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, asthma and bronchitis.

Air pollution has a number of sources including the burning of fossil fuels, transport, agriculture and industrial activities. All of the countries taking part in the meeting still burn coal to generate electricity, although Italy and the UK have announced they will close their last plants by 2025.[3]

Five of the nine countries called to the meeting were already given a ‘last chance’ to clean up their air in February last year after infringement proceedings were first launched 10 years ago.[4] Further action appears to have been delayed to allow governments more time to explain themselves.[5]

Countries that fail to implement European laws can expect to be brought before the courts, yet the Commission has been slow to take action on air pollution breaches. So far only Bulgaria has been found guilty of having failed to act quickly enough to clean up its toxic air.[6]

Tolottto concluded:

“We hope that 2018 will be the year that the EU finally takes the enforcement of air quality laws seriously – and that means further and quicker court action against persistent offenders.”

Notes to Editors

[1] Commissioner Vella calls air quality ministerial summit on 30 January, and announces new measures to help Member States comply with environmental laws, European Commission Press Release, 19 January 2018 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-348_en.htm
[2] Air Quality in Europe 2017, EEA Report https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2017
[3] Europe Beyond Coal https://beyond-coal.eu/data/
[4] EEB Welcomes Eurpean Commission Action on Illegal Air, EEB Press Release, 15 February 2017 http://eeb.org/eeb-welcomes-european-commission-action-on-illegal-air/
[5] National Inaction and Commission Delays Undermining EU Air Quality Protections, EEB Press Relase, 7 December 2017 http://eeb.org/national-inaction-and-commission-delays-undermining-eu-air-quality-protections/
[6] Air quality ruling is tip of the iceberg, EEB Press Release, 5 April 2017 http://eeb.org/air-quality-ruling-is-tip-of-the-iceberg/

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Officer

anton.lazarus@eeb.org

+3227908818