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19th Oct 2018

Commission takes month to decide next move on air quality

  • Protester demanding cleaner air (Photo: Ron F)

The European Commission will spend a month on assessing new measures presented by nine EU member states to fight air pollution - and postponing the moment of deciding whether to take any of them to the Court of Justice for not doing enough.

"We will come back to the matter in mid-March," commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said on Monday (12 February).

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She spoke after a deadline passed for nine member states - the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom - to come forward with new air quality plans.

EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella had told ministers, or their deputies, from those countries last month that they needed to step up their measures to prevent air pollution.

He told them that they had until a week ago (5 February) to submit the plans - although a commission spokesman later said that it was not a legal deadline, and information sent over the course of the last week would also be accepted.

"We can now confirm that indeed all member states concerned have submitted additional information, which we will now evaluate," Andreeva said on Monday.

The nine member states are all at the receiving end of the commission's infringement procedure, which is an escalation method of increasing pressure through subsequent warnings, and could end up in Court of Justice of the EU - with a potential fine.

So far, however, the commission has not referred the nine states involved to the court.

Last month, Vella acknowledged that some critics have said that the commission waited too long.

Normally, the commission announces infringement decisions in monthly packages. Monday's announcement, that the commission will come back to the matter in mid-March, means that those nine member states will have at least another month of respite.

Bulgaria and Poland

In 2015, the commission did refer two member states to the Luxembourg-based court for breaking EU laws on air quality standards.

In April 2017, the court ruled that Bulgaria had "failed to fulfil its obligations" under the EU's air quality directive, but gave no fine.

Later this month, the court will decide on a similar case with Poland.

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.

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