Commission gears up against air polluters, sends six countries to court

Paris Madrid and Brussels accuse the Commission of giving in to car manufacturers and being too lenient on NOx emissions

The UK is being taken to court by the European Commission over its long-standing failure to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO₂).

37 of the UK's 43 air quality zones don't meet European Union nitrogen dioxide limits, all of which should have fallen within safe limits by 2010.

However, a country may overstep this daily standard up to 35 times a year. Toxic air results in more than 400,000 early deaths across Europe each year.

Action against the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain has not been pursued as measures being put in place in each of the countries, "appear to be appropriate, if implemented" the Commission has claimed.

"The commission had to conclude that... the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible", Vella said.

"Everyone in Europe has the same right to clean air, and when national governments fail to deliver EU protections, it's right that the European Commission steps in to protect us from the air we breathe". But ministers refused to make them compulsory, instead making them a voluntary and last-resort option for local authorities.

Bulgaria and Poland have already been hit with legal action for not keeping to P10 standards.

Twenty-three of the 28 EU member countries exceed air quality norms, the European Commission said.

Commission gears up against air polluters, sends six countries to court

The Court of Justice ruled on Thursday (22 February) that Poland has infringed air quality laws, urging Warsaw to comply "without delay" or face fines after finding that the country has regularly exceeded fine particle limits for years.

The UK government has two months to respond to the EU Commission before it takes further action.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking earlier this week at the budget debate in the German Bundestag, called for a hands-off approach to the German vehicle industry: "It is for us to tell the sector that it must fix the trust that it has lost".

"We can't possibly wait any longer".

Greenpeace Germany traffic expert Tobias Austrup, in response to Merkel's statement, warned that "the German government is giving the auto companies ineffective measures" to fight air pollution.

This is particularly problematic for the government, which has had to defend its own plans to address air quality in the United Kingdom courts on several occasions over the last five years, for failing to bring the United Kingdom into compliance the objective within the "soonest timeframe possible", as required by the legislation.

He said: "The news that the European Commission will be taking the UK Government to court for risky levels of air pollution should be a wake-up call".

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