Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Netherlands latest EU country to be told to improve air quality

  • Protesters in Brussels demanding cleaner air (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The Dutch state has to do more to make sure it complies with EU emissions limits, a court in the Hague ruled on Thursday (7 September).

The ruling follows several other cases where European judges stepped in to demand cleaner air for citizens. In the Netherlands, it will also complicate coalition talks.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The case was filed by environmentalist group Milieudefensie (Environmental defence), the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth.

According to EU law, the country was supposed to comply with emissions limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by 1 January 2010, and for particulate matter (PM) by 1 January 2005.

The European Commission gave the Netherlands an extended period to comply, namely until 1 January 2015 for NO2, and 11 June 2011 for PM.

However, the country has consistently exceeded those limits for both pollutants in a number of locations.

The EU directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe requires member states that have zones where the emissions limits are exceeded to come up with air quality plans "so that the exceedance period can be kept as short as possible".

The court ruled that the air quality plan the Dutch government has in place is too general, and ordered the government to start work on a new plan within two weeks.

Milieudefensie had asked the court to demand that this plan is ready before the end of 2018, but the judge turned down that request because the phrase "as short as possible" was not defined further.

'Breakthrough'

Nevertheless, the environmental NGO was very happy with the result.

"This is a complete breakthrough for clean air," said campaigner Anne Knol in a written statement. "We are delighted that the judge has obliged the state to better protect its citizens' health."

EUobserver spoke to Knol in Amsterdam last year, when her organisation had just announced the plan to sue the government over bad air quality.

"It is a pity that we need the judge, and that we cannot rely on the morality that it is important enough to put health first," she said at the time. "It is not a desirable fight but, at some point, you have to say: enough is enough."

Milieudefensie was inspired to sue the state after a similar court case took place in the UK.

In a 2014 landmark ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU said the UK's Supreme Court should take "any necessary measure" to make sure the government complies with EU emissions limits.

More recently, a court in Stuttgart, Germany, told the municipality to rewrite its air quality plan last July, and said a ban on diesel cars should be in place as of next year.

Coalition talks

The result of the Dutch court case does not only have legal consequences, but also political.

The country has been ruled by a caretaker government since elections last March.

The pragmatic government coalition of centre-right Liberals and centre-left Labour lost its majority, and the Liberals are in talks with three other parties to replace Labour as coalition partner.

The other three are the centre-right Christian-Democrats, the centrist D66, and the christian-orthodox Christian Union.

Caretaker minister for environment Sharon Dijksma (Labour) already said on Thursday that she planned to come up with plans to improve air quality.

But the four negotiating parties will also have to find a way to cement a policy response within their coalition agreement.

This will be a tough debate.

D66 and Christian Union have a strong environmental side, while the Liberals profile themselves as the party defending car drivers.

It was under Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte that the maximum speed on highways was increased from 120 to 130 kilometres per hour, which pleased drivers, but also increased NO2 emissions by some 12 percent.

Widespread problem

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is by no means the only EU country that struggles to stay under emissions limits.

Sixteen other member states are at the receiving end of a legal proceedings, called an infringement procedure, compelling them to reduce levels of PM10 particles, of which two - Bulgaria and Poland - are facing the EU's Court of Justice.

The commission has also launched infringement procedures against twelve member states with excessive NO2 levels.

Dutch government appeals landmark climate ruling

The Dutch government is appealing a court ruling telling it to take more action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A green activist believes the ruling has changed the "atmosphere" on climate change.

Focus

Indoor air quality on EU building agenda for first time

MEPs will debate amendments to new EU building regulations next week, intended to improve energy efficiency but which could also see indoor air quality become a mandatory criteria for the first time.

Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs

The European Commission and the EU's national governments pass each other the buck on who should move first on a heavily-criticised proposal on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap