After repeated warnings to address unacceptable pollution levels, six countries must now answer to the European Court of Justice.
The European Commission has had enough — air pollution needs to be addressed.
It says its repeated warnings to “toxic” member states have fallen on deaf ears, and it has launched legal action to force them into change.
Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Romania and Hungary have been ordered to the European Court of Justice for their failure to comply with air-quality limits, and their inaction in tackling hazardous pollution levels in their cities.
“The decision to refer Member States to the Court of Justice of the EU has been taken on behalf of Europeans,” Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vella said.
“We have said that this Commission is one that protects. Our decision follows through on that claim.
“The Member States referred to the Court today have received sufficient ‘last chances’ over the last decade to improve the situation. It is my conviction that today’s decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale.
“But legal action alone will not solve the problem. That is why we are outlining the practical help that the Commission can provide to the national authorities’ efforts to promote cleaner air for European cities and towns.”
Final warning from Commission
The UK was issued with a final warning in January, with instructions to detail how it planned to comply with EU air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
British lawmakers supported the Commission’s crackdown.
“Thousands of lives are lost each year yet the British government simply sits on its hands and does nothing. If the threat of hefty fines and legal action is not enough, then what on earth will compel the government to act when we leave the EU?” Seb Dance, the Labour party’s environmental lead in the European Parliament, told the Guardian.
Thousands of lives are lost each year yet the British government simply sits on its hands and does nothing.
Liberal MEP and environment committee member Catherine Bearder, added: “Lesser mortals have to face the long arm of the law, why shouldn’t the government?
“We know that London has been busting the regulations for years and that means there are people dead who shouldn’t be. Real lives are being damaged here, because the government won’t implement the law that its ministers willingly signed up to.”
The story was similar with the other offenders.
Germany — which, for instance, recorded levels of NO2 twice as high as the allowed threshold in the city of Stuttgart — wrote to Vella with a plan to curb emissions, however it was deemed unsatisfactory in the short-term.
Diesel engines and factories are the major contributors to air pollution, and Volkswagen’s ‘diesel dupe’ certainly hasn’t helped the situation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticised for not backing calls to force vehicle manufacturers to make hardware retrofits on diesel car exhaust systems.
“We believe in the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” said German Environment Ministry spokesman Nikolai Fichtner.
“Who’s responsible for the problem? The car industry. They sold cars that consumers thought would be clean. And they are clean in the laboratory. Just not on the street.”
Hamburg has begun erecting signs as it becomes the first city to prohibit ‘dirty diesel’ vehicles on two of its main arteries. A move made possible following a landmark ruling by a German high court in February allowing municipalities to enact such bans.