Sunday

22nd Apr 2018

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.

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.

"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.

Focus

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.

Opinion

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

Magazine

A sustainable death wish

No one can escape death. But choices over how one's body is disposed of could either lessen or increase your carbon footprint.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights