EU air quality policy scrutinised

By: Christer Ågren

In January, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a European implementation assessment (EIA) prepared for the European Parliament’s environment committee. The report focuses primarily on the two Ambient Air Quality Directives, but also looks at the implementation of the Industrial Emissions Directive and the EU type-approval legislation for road vehicles. This is timely, as these rules are scheduled for revision in the near future.

The analysis resulted in a number of conclusions and recommendations for policy action, some of which are summarised below.

  • As some of the current EU air quality standards are not aligned with the latest scientific knowledge, they need to be brought up to date and there should also be an obligation for a periodic review of the standards against the latest technical and scientific evidence.
  • There is a need for EU-level harmonisation of the way air quality data is communicated to the public, and the legal framework must include a provision to guarantee the right of citizens to access justice.
  • For some air pollutants, exceedances of the air quality standards are still widespread and persistent, and the periods of exceedance have not been kept as short as possible, despite this being a legal requirement. This non-compliance has led to infringement procedures launched by the Commission against several member states. But the infringement procedures, in addition to being lengthy, do not always succeed in enforcing compliance with the EU air quality standards.
  • The air quality plans are critically important for the avoidance, reduction and prevention of air pollution, and action for improvement should focus on the quality of the plans and especially on the measures included. EU-level guidance could support this process, and the implementation of air quality plans needs to be properly monitored and evaluated, e.g. by introducing an obligation for member states to report to the Commission on the implementation of their plans and to update them when new measures are adopted or when progress is insufficient.
  • As regards the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), national practices for granting derogations to certain installations should not unduly delay implementation of the best available techniques (BATs). The current exclusion from the scope of the IED of some highly polluting installations in the agricultural (livestock) and mining sectors should be reconsidered. Monitoring data should be published in a systematic way to improve transparency and facilitate access to data for the public. The release of many emerging air pollutants should be better monitored and reported. All permits granted under the IED should be made public, which would improve public access to information and public participation in permit procedures.

The EPRS report also includes a research paper which analyses the local policies designed and implemented by ten cities to reduce air pollution. It also looks at the effects of the first wave of pandemic lockdown measures implemented in the same ten cities (Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Bucharest, Krakow, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Stockholm).


Christer Ågren


The report “EU policy on air quality – Implementation of selected EU legislation,” including an annex “Mapping and assessing local policies on air quality – What air quality policy lessons could be learned from the Covid-19 lockdown?” (January 2021). Available at:

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