Tuesday

25th Jun 2019

Auditors raise alarm over air pollution in Europe

Seven out of eight audited EU countries "have not effectively implemented" a decade-old directive on air quality rules, according to a report published on Wednesday (30 January).

Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and the Netherlands "have not taken sufficient action to improve air quality", said the report, a joint effort by the European Court of Auditors, 14 national audit offices from Europe, and the Israeli national audit office.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • European Environment Agency director Hans Bruyninckx (l), seen here in 2017 talking to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, called air pollution an 'invisible killer' (Photo: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency)

The report also covered non-EU countries Albania, Georgia, Israel, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, and Switzerland.

"The national governments in question have not given sufficient priority to the problem of air pollution, with all the attendant consequences for human health," the report stated.

Estonia was the only audited EU country which did not break EU air pollution limits.

"While the situation is improving and air quality has benefited from cuts in emissions, the EU member states included in this audit (except for Estonia) still do not comply with the EU's air quality standards," it went on.

The European Court of Auditors has previously called air pollution "the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union".

The European Environment Agency (EEA) said last year that around 391,000 people in the EU died prematurely in 2015 because of air pollution.

EEA director Hans Bruyninckx called air pollution an "invisible killer".

Despite some progress, EU countries have been failing for years now to clean up their air.

The European Commission is in charge of making sure that national governments do what they had promised at EU-level in the directive on ambient air quality, adopted in May 2008.

The only legal tool the commission has is the so-called infringement procedure, which is a series of escalating steps involving sending stern letters, and culminating in a referral to the EU's highest court in Luxembourg.

Last May, the Brussels-based EU executive referred six EU states to the European Court of Justice.

However, of the seven audited EU countries for which Wednesday's report concluded their respective governments took insufficient action, only Hungary and Romania were among the six taken to court by the commission.

The other four were Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Italy.

But Slovakia and Spain, which are scolded in the audit offices' report, with the Czech Republic, escaped court referral in May 2018.

EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said that was because these three countries had announced measures that would improve air quality "in a reasonable time frame".

But according to the Slovakian supreme audit institution "a comprehensive strategy for air protection is missing [in Slovakia] and there is no national emission reduction programme".

The report noted that the Slovak ministry of environment was "preparing a new strategy for air protection which is expected to be adopted in 2019".

On Spain, the report noted that while Madrid had established a National Air Quality and Atmosphere Protection Plan, "only some of the relevant measures have been implemented".

The Spanish audit office said that 62 percent of the measures had either been implemented only partly or not yet.

The report also said there were several examples of improvements across Europe. However, it was not enough.

Letters

The audit results raise questions over the effectiveness of the commission's infringement procedure in forcing member states to stick to EU rules on air pollution.

In November, the commission sent so-called letters of formal notice to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, telling them "to bring national legislation into line with the Air Quality Directive". It sent a similar letter to Belgium on poor air quality.

Also in November, the commission reminded Bulgaria that the Court of Justice of the EU had already ruled in 2017 it was breaking EU law by not cleaning up the air, and threatened with sending Bulgaria back to the court - which could ultimately lead to fines.

This was eight months after EU commissioner Vella told press Bulgaria's air quality had been improving since the court ruling.

Earlier this month, the commission sent France, Greece, and Sweden letters of formal notice to fight air pollution.

Focus

EU accused of 'half-hearted approach' on air quality

European Commission has taken six EU countries to court over failing to achieve EU air quality standards. But what about the other countries where air quality is equally bad - or worse?

Four states block EU 2050 carbon neutral target

Poland, with the support from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Estonia, blocked a commitment to climate neutrality by 2050. It is now just a footnote in the summit conclusions.

News in Brief

  1. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  2. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'
  3. Share trading ban looms as Swiss row with EU escalates
  4. Cooperation needed on Brexit, says Johnson
  5. Europe hit by record breaking June heat wave
  6. Liberal split complicates talks on new Spanish government
  7. Italy unravels massive European VAT carousel fraud
  8. Venezuelans cause spike in EU asylum bids

Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'

Following an investigation into the Dieselgate scandal, the European Parliament recommended a single commissioner should be responsible for both air quality and setting industrial standards. But only the Greens want to commit to carry out that advice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  2. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  3. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  4. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  5. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  6. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  7. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says
  8. Babis unmoved by EU scam allegations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us