More EU air quality failures

In late November the European Commission decided to take four more member states – Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Spain – to the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with EU air quality limit values for airborne particles (PM10).

According to the Commission, the PM10 limit values have not been respected in several zones in the four countries since the legislation came into force in 2005.

The EU air quality directive requires member states to limit the exposure of citizens to PM10, by setting limit values for exposure which were due to be met in 2005, including an annual limit value of 40 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) as well as a daily limit value of 50 μg/m3 that must not be exceeded more than 35 times per year.

While member states may apply for time extensions until June 2011 to meet the PM10 limit values, these can only be granted provided a number of conditions are met. It must be demonstrated that steps have been taken to achieve compliance by the extended deadline, and an air quality plan setting out the relevant abatement actions for each air quality zone must be implemented.

All four countries have applied for time extensions, but the Commission concluded that the conditions for granting them had not been met.

On 30 September the Commission sent letters to five other member states – Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovakia – urging them to comply with the PM10 limit values. As from that date, these countries have two months to comply with the reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures, and in the absence of satisfactory responses they may be referred to the Court.

These countries had also applied for time extensions, which were rejected by the Commission. Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia have subsequently re-applied for time extensions, and the Commission is still in the process of assessing these new notifications.

Moreover, in October Belgium was approached a second time for failure to transpose the air quality directive into national legislation. In Belgium, the transposition of EU legislation on the environment is generally a competence of the three regions – Wallonia, Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region. After having sent a letter of formal notice to Belgium in July, the Commission received notification that the legislation had been adopted in only one of the three regions. Consequently, the Commission has now sent Belgium a reasoned opinion.

Christer Ågren

Sources: Commission press releases 30 September, 28 October and 24 November. Further information is available on the Commission's website.

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