European Commission tells air pollution ministers: inaction has consequences

Environment ministers from the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom today failed to convince European Commissioner Vella that they had “substantial enough” proposals to cut air pollution.

The ministers had been hauled to Brussels to explain their governments’ consistent failures to meet EU legal limits for air pollution.

After the meeting, at which no new measures were announced, Commissioner Vella said that the deadlines for meeting the legal obligations had long lapsed and that no further delays could be accepted.[1]

The European Commission is now expected to take the nine member states to court in the coming weeks.

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 for Air and Noise, said:

“Today’s meeting and Commissioner Vella’s statements make clear that the Commission is taking its responsibility to protect citizens from harmful air pollution seriously. With no substantial measures announced by ministers today, it is impossible to justify any further delay in sending cases against these governments to court and we expect to see the Commission doing so in the coming days. Legal action is the appropriate and most effect means to deal with countries breaking EU law.”

EU laws setting limits on maximum concentrations for dangerous pollutants have been in place for decades, yet are being breached on an enormous scale with serious consequences for human health and the environment.

Beyond the 9 countries answering questions in Brussels today, EU limits are being breached in 130 cities in 23 out of the 27 EU member states.

According to the latest EEA air quality data, in 2016:

  • 19 EU countries were breaching the annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2);
  • 7 countries were breaching the annual limit for fine particles (for either PM10, PM2.5 or both, as in the case of Italy, Poland and Croatia);
  • 14 countries were breaching the daily limit for PM10 more than 35 times per year – which the the maximum allowed under EU law.

The EU has already sent Bulgaria and Poland to court. Bulgaria was the first country to be ordered to take action to improve its air quality in a landmark ruling in April last year. A ruling against the Polish government is expected on 22 February 2018.

Further reading:
While the Commission is right to call ‘toxic bloc’ summit, it would be wrong to step back from enforcing the law, Blog by Margherita Tolotto, EEB Air and Noise Policy Officer.
EEB Media Briefing: EU ‘toxic bloc’ air pollution summit
National inaction and Commission delays undermining EU air quality protections, EEB Press Release, 7 December 2017

[1] Statement by Commissioner Karmenu Vella following Air Quality Ministerial meeting, 30 January 2017

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Officer


European Commission tells air pollution ministers: inaction has consequences
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