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25th Aug 2019

Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda

  • Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l) overruled his environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, delaying action on air pollution (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has overruled his environment commissioner Karmenu Vella and decided that no countries will be referred to the EU's court this month for failing EU air quality standards.

Nine EU countries who have worse air pollution than allowed under EU law are currently at the receiving end of the so-called infringement procedure – which could end up in the Court of Justice of the EU.

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  • Nine EU member states have air quality below what is required by EU law (Photo: European Parliament)

A commission spokeswoman confirmed a report by French newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday (24 April), that the college of 28 EU commissioners will not take any decisions relating to the infringement procedure in April.

"It is the president who decides the agenda of the college," said a commission spokeswoman in an emailed statement.

"In view of the extensive and comprehensive preparatory work on the Multiannual Financial Framework and the busy college agenda with many initiatives relating to the Digital Single Market, the president has decided that the next infringement cycle will be after the MFF proposal, in May," the spokeswoman added.

Infringement decisions are lumped together, normally monthly although not always.

The decision puts the EU's environment commissioner, Maltese politician Karmenu Vella, in a difficult spot.

Vella had told MEPs last month that he would propose to "proceed with a number of cases" - i.e. refer member states to court – for inclusion in the infringement package at the end of April.

The news, which was not the first delay, was met with disappointment by environmental campaign group ClientEarth.

"Action is overdue by more than eight years and the commission is letting down millions of people across Europe who are breathing illegal and harmful levels of air pollution," the group said in an emailed statement.

The nine EU countries – Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the UK – were supposed to have brought their pollution levels down to EU limits by 2010.

"If the commission really does care about the health of Europeans, it's high time to follow up statements with real action," ClientEarth added.

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