EU takes UK, Germany, four others to court over air pollution

May 17, 2018 by Lachlan Carmichael
The so-called 'toxic bloc' face heavy fines over pollution

The European Commission said Thursday it is taking Germany, Britain, France and three other countries to the bloc's highest court for failing to comply with EU air quality standards.

The decision by the commission, the 28-nation European Union's executive arm, hits Britain before it is due to leave the bloc in 2019 following the shock Brexit referendum two years ago.

The commission had given the six countries—which also includes Italy, Hungary and Romania—a last chance in January to take long-sought steps to improve air quality or be hauled before the European Court of Justice.

However, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told a press conference in Brussels that the countries, part of what activists have dubbed a "toxic bloc", had failed to act quickly enough.

"The commission had to conclude that... the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible," Vella said.

"Consequently, the commission has decided to refer these (six) member states to the Court of Justice of the EU," the executive arm said.

The Luxembourg-based court can impose heavy fines.

Vella, who has called the pollution problem urgent and "life threatening," said Brussels feared it may end up waiting several more years before the countries put the right measures in place.

"We cannot wait any longer," he added.

The commission has been urging the wayward countries to establish incentives for the transport, energy and agricultural sector as well as improve urban planning and building design to improve on pollution.

Vella had also given Spain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia a last chance in January to start complying with EU standards, which he said they were now doing.

'Continental scale'

But he warned the commission was keeping the three countries under review.

EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said some countries had failed to act quickly enough on pollution

In January, the nine countries were found to regularly exceed emissions limits set to protect Europeans against particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), both pollutants.

Germany, Britain and France were targeted for failing to meet limits on NO2 while Italy, Hungary and Romania exceeded limits on particulate matter.

The EU estimates that air pollution costs the bloc 20 billion euros ($24.7 billion) a year in health costs, but says this could be reduced if member states comply with agreed emissions limits.

Throughout the EU, fine particulates—small particles of pollution—were responsible for three out of four premature pollution deaths (399,000 out of 487,600) in 2014, according to EU figures.

The European Environmental Bureau, an umbrella grouping of activists who dubbed the nine countries summoned in January a "toxic bloc," welcomed the commission's action.

"Today's announcement should surprise no one, the countries being sent to court have had too many final warnings," the EEB's Margherita Tolotto said.

"European air quality laws are being broken on a continental scale," Tolotto said.

But she added that the process behind legal action should be "far more transparent" to allow citizens to know why some countries are taken to court and others not.

The problem is also broader across the bloc than just the nine countries.

Twenty-three of the 28 EU member countries exceed air quality norms, the European Commission said.

The problem affects more than 130 cities in Europe. Bulgaria and Poland, which have also failed to take action, have already been taken before the top court.

In a separate action, the commission proposed the first-ever CO2 emissions standards for new trucks travelling within the EU.

Compared with anticipated 2019 levels, the emissions will have to be 15 percent lower in 2025 and at least 30 percent in 2030.

Explore further: EU summons France, Germany, UK to 'final chance' pollution talks

Related Stories

EU court says Poland broke air quality laws

February 22, 2018

The EU's top court on Thursday found Poland guilty of violating air quality laws, in the latest clash between the bloc's authorities and the rightwing government in Warsaw.

Germany eyes free transport to banish air pollution

February 13, 2018

"Car nation" Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines.

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.