Vella in warning over air quality enforcement

EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has warned member states facing enforcement action over air quality that the EU Commission will pursue legal action ‘where necessary’.

The Commissioner spoke to journalists after an informal meeting of Europe’s environment ministers in the Bulgarian capital Sofia this afternoon (10 April), at which the ministers – including UK environment minister Therese Coffey – discussed steps being taken to improve air quality in their countries.

Bulgarian minister Neno Dimov (left) with EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella Photo: Nikolay Doychinov (EU2018BG)

Nine member states, the UK, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, are currently awaiting confirmation as to whether they will face infringement proceedings from the EU over failure to meet the 40 µg/m3 annual mean target for nitrogen dioxide, in force since 2010.

During the press conference, Commissioner Vella claimed that Europe is a ‘global leader’ in many areas relating the environment, but that it was ‘failing its own citizens’ in efforts to tackle air pollution.

“Some of our air quality standards are weaker than the recommended WHO levels. That is why more needs to be done and more will be done,” he remarked.

‘Ambition’

Commenting on today’s meeting, which was led by Bulgaria’s Minister for Environment Dr Neno Dimov, Vella said: “I encouraged Ministers to work closely with their national counterparts responsible for Energy, Transport, Agriculture – to name but a few. But also across borders.

“I invited them to remain ambitious in the ongoing negotiations on key legislative initiatives – clean vehicles, CO2 emissions from cars, and road charging.

“But I have also made it clear that far too many areas in Europe still face unacceptable exceedances of air quality standards, and that I am not satisfied with this situation.”

The European Commission is currently considering evidence produced by each of the nine named countries as to why the deadlines have not been met, before taking a further decision on next steps.

Initially this had been expected to be finalised by the end of March, but sources now suggest that the decision is likely to be outlined within the Commissions next infringement cycle – likely to be at the end of this month.

Commissioner Vella added: “The Commission’s responsibility is to European people. And we will live up to that responsibility.

“The Air Quality Ministerial Meeting I organised on 30 January with nine member states requires that we follow through. This means enforcement, where necessary, especially in cases where the required additional credible, timely and effective measures have not been taken.

“In these cases I will propose to the College to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.”