18th Mar 2018

Cleaner air in Bulgaria after EU ruling, commission says

  • Air pollution is one of Europe's largest environmental problems (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU's environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said on Monday (5 March) that air pollution in Bulgaria has been reduced since the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that Bulgaria needed to do more to tackle it.

"I can confirm that after the ruling against Bulgaria we see improvement," said Vella at a press conference, standing next to Bulgarian environment minister Neno Dimov.

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  • EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella: 'I can confirm that after the ruling against Bulgaria we see improvement' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Dimov added that improving air quality was his "priority number one", but that it was difficult to assess progress 11 months after the court ruling.

He said that Bulgarian authorities had handed out some €100,000 in fines for illegal burning of wood.

"In Bulgaria there are definitely cities which are improving the air quality, and other which don't," Dimov noted.

He was present at the press conference because his country is chairing ministerial meetings as the six-month rotating council president.

"As the minister has confirmed, there have been some improvements in some areas and some other areas there [is] more to be done," Vella added.

Bulgaria was the first country to be told by the Luxembourg-based court that it had broken EU law by consistently exceeding air pollution limits.

Last month, the court said the same about Poland.

Meanwhile, nine other EU member states face a potential referral to the court.

These are the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

The commission summoned their environment ministers to Brussels last January and gave them a last opportunity to submit new plans to improve air quality.

Vella said on Monday that the civil servants of the commission's environment directorate-general were still assessing the plans.

If they are deemed insufficient, the commission will refer the countries to the court.

Vella dismissed speculation by a journalist that the commission wanted to wait with the move until after the completion of coalition talks in Germany and the elections in Italy, last Sunday.

"I don't think that citizens stop breathing during elections and I don't think that citizens stop breathing when parties are discussing coalitions," he said.

Vella repeated "mid-March" as the moment when the commission would get back to the issue.

"Hopefully we will be in a position to discuss and decide on the way forward during the coming weeks and days," he added.

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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