Thursday

24th Sep 2020

EU gives countries a week to draw up new clean air plans

  • EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella (r) welcoming French environment minister Nicholas Hulot (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has given nine national governments until Monday (5 February) to come with new plans that will bring air quality in their countries in line with EU standards.

EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said that the lethal consequences of air pollution has been known "for decades", and EU rules to combat it have existed almost as long.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"And yet, still today, in 2018, 400 000 people are still dying prematurely every year because of a massive, widespread failure to address the problem," said Vella on Tuesday (30 January).

He spoke to press after meeting with environment ministers – or their deputies – from the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

Vella said that at the ministerial meeting some new commitments were given, although he did not specify what they were.

"All those commitments wil be evaluated by my services," he said.

"We have also asked the member states that if they have any new measures that they can put on the table, that they have to come with these new measures latest by Monday."

A commission spokesman told EUobserver however that Monday was not formal legal deadline.

Vella added "there were some positive suggestions but I have to say that at first sight these were not substantial enough to change the bigger picture".

Indeed, it seems unlikely that national governments, which have been aware of the problem for years, would suddenly agree on a new plan in the coming six days.

EU states were required to respect EU-level air quality standards for particulate matter in 2005, and nitrogen dioxide in 2010.

Aside from meeting politicians and making statements, the commission has mainly one tool to make member states comply with the EU air quality standards: the infringement procedure.

The nine countries present on Tuesday are at the receiving end of that procedure, which could end up at the Court of Justice of the EU.

Tuesday's meeting was a political one, outside of the infringement procedure. But Vella stressed that the commission would still go to court if sufficient new measures are not taken.

"There are no new deadlines. We are not delaying, we are not postponing the process. There is a legal process, which is ongoing," he said.

Vella said he reminded ministers that they could be taken to court, but acknowledged that some think that the commission has already waited too long before dragging states to court.

Final, final warning

Crucially, the decision to take the final step is not automatic, and needs to be approved by the college of EU commissioners – one from each country.

Vella noted that he would discuss the issue with the college on Wednesday, and had the backing of EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Although the start of the infringement procedure has deadlines for member states by which to reply to commission letters, there is no required time limit within which the commission should go from final warning to court.

The commission sent final warnings – so-called 'reasoned opinions' – to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom on 15 February 2017, almost a year ago.

The Czech Republic already received such a reasoned opinion on 26 March 2015, but almost three years later is still not taken to court.

If the commission does take a country to court, and the court decides that a country has breached EU law, it may receive a fine.

Brexit

Vella said, when asked about it, that the unique situation of the UK – which is expected to leave the EU in 423 days – was not discussed.

"This was not about Brexit, this was not about the UK," he said.

"We were not addressing the UK specifically, but we were addressing all the ministers that were present there."

Key EU air quality 'summit' to last just two hours

EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella has invited environment ministers in to explain why their citizens are suffering from air pollution - but he may have picked the wrong ministers, with transport, energy and agriculture the biggest culprits.

Air pollution, Europe's largest environmental health hazard

While the health of hundreds of thousands of Europeans' are affected each year by air quality issues, the EU and its member states struggle to implement and comply with legislation that aims to reduce air pollution.

News in Brief

  1. German foreign minister in coronavirus quarantine
  2. Report: Roma life expectancy '10 years lower'
  3. US corona death toll passes 200,000
  4. Greece and Turkey agree to resume talks in Istanbul
  5. Seven countries found MidEast energy forum, without Turkey
  6. Four more states join EU medical strategic stockpile
  7. Malta police arrest chief of staff of ex-PM
  8. EP pushing for effective rule-of-law mechanism

Feature

The 150 random French citizens advising Macron

Some 150 randomly-picked men and women make up Emmanuel Macron's Citizens' Climate Convention. This week Macron invited them to the Élysée Palace and promised - nearly - all of their wishes would come true .

France shuts oldest reactor amid Macron climate pledges

France's oldest nuclear power plant finally closed on Tuesday, one day after president Emmanuel Macron pledged to speed up the country's transition to a greener economy responding to the proposals from the French citizens' convention on climate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  2. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  3. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize
  4. Legal complaint filed with EU Commission over migration
  5. Coronavirus: Will a second wave divide Europe again?
  6. Coronavirus: the Swedish model was worth emulating
  7. Time to fix Europe's broken migration and asylum system
  8. Covid-19: How is Eastern Europe bracing for a second wave?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us