Delays and secrecy surround governments’ plans to tackle air pollution


Government plans to tackle Europe’s air quality crisis are either being deliberately kept secret or are ‘completely inadequate’, air quality campaigners have concluded after a series of access to information requests.

The EEB, in collaboration with organisations across Europe, has asked governments to release information submitted to the European Commission following a meeting in January. The meeting saw ministers from nine member states summoned to Brussels to explain their inaction on air pollution. [1]

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations with 140 members in more than 30 countries.

While some governments shared their proposals, others are insisting on keeping their plans secret to avoid public scrutiny.

It is more than a year since the Commission issued ‘final warnings’ as infringement proceedings reached the last step before being sent to the EU’s top court. [2]

Legal limits for either nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or particulate matter (PM) have been breached in towns and cities in the nine countries for a number of years. France and Italy have received final warnings for both pollutants.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Monday, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella confirmed he would recommend that “a number of” governments be sent to court. [3]

Reacting to the Commissioner’s announcement EEB Policy Officer for Air Quality Margherita Tolotto said:

“It’s now essential that the public know why further legal action will or won’t be taken. Everyone in Europe has the same right to clean air and there is a huge public interest in the steps being proposed to tackle Europe’s air pollution crisis. Public health decisions should be based on publicly available information.”

European air pollution limits are currently being broken in 130 cities in 23 of the 28 member states. After Poland and Bulgaria, which have already been found guilty in earlier cases,[4] data shows that the nine countries now facing legal action are among the worst offenders. [5]

Tolotto continued:

“People all over Europe have a right to know what measures their governments are proposing to improve the quality of the air they breathe. It’s shocking that such information is being kept secret, but it’s perhaps not surprising considering that the actions promised so far are mostly too little too late. Governments need to understand that urgent and significant action is required to improve our air.”

The EEB submitted freedom of information requests to national governments and the European Commission in February asking for the ministers’ air quality submissions to be made publicly available.

Requests were sent together with members and partner organisations in the UK (ClientEarth), Italy (Legambiente & Cittadini per l’aria), Spain (Ecologistas en Acción), Romania (Centrul de Excelență pentru Dezvoltare Durabilă, Centrul de Consultanta Ecologica Galati, Grupul Ecologic de Colaborare,  Ecoteca & the National Centre for Sustainable Production and Consumption), the Czech Republic (Frank Bold & CPZPZ), Hungary (Levegő Munkacsoportot), and Slovakia (Centre for Sustainable Alternatives).

The European Commission and the UK, Spanish, Czech and Romanian governments all refused to share information. The Hungarian government failed to reply to the request.

However, the Italian and Slovak governments did release their proposals and the French and German measures were already in the public domain.

Officials in the European Commission have assessed the governments’ proposals and Commissioner Vella will make recommendations to the full college of 28 European Commissioners at a meeting next month.

The Aarhus Convention guarantees citizens the right to access to information about environmental issues but the European Commission, and several member states, refused to share information citing the ongoing infringement proceedings as an exception to the expectation for transparency.



[1] ‘Toxic bloc’ summit welcome, but no substitute for legal action EEB Press Release, 19 January 2018

[2]National inaction and Commission delays undermining EU air quality protections, EEB Press Release, 7 December 2017

[3] Opening Statement – Exchange of views between Commissioner Vella and the European Parliament ENVI Committee, 26 March 2018

[4] Polish air quality ruling is warning to ‘toxic bloc’ governments, EEB Press Release, 22 February 2018

[5] See European Environmental Agency Air Quality e-Reporting.

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Officer


Delays and secrecy surround governments’ plans to tackle air pollution
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