Environmental protection organisation Greenpeace has seen a previous judgement against the Flemish government upheld by the court of appeal in Brussels.
The case began in 2017, when Greenpeace went to court to contest the Flemish government’s air-quality directive, and the fact that the European rules on nitrogen dioxide were being exceeded in many places. However Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) argued that the plan itself was not in question, but only the lack of a binding timetable.
The Flemish government had originally been given until 2015 to draw up a timetable, but two years later still had not done so. Greenpeace won the case.
Now the court of appeal has confirmed the previous verdict, and in addition has fined the government €750,000, based on a 2018 ruling that fined the government €1,000 a day, dating from the original ruling.
“It’s actually simple,” said Joeri Thijs, mobility expert at Greenpeace.
“Europe imposes rules to protect our health. Flanders was aware of the problem and had to adapt in 2010. It was given an additional five years to fix it, but now we’re another six years on and it’s still not okay. We are still seeing violations of the European standard for nitrogen dioxide in many places.”
Since the initial ruling, he said, four years have passed without progress being made, and in the meantime an estimated 9,000 people a year are dying prematurely as a result of poor air quality.
“We don’t go to court to receive penalty payments, but to remind policymakers of their duty and to enforce change,” said Thijs.
“We will use the money to start up the Healthy Air Fund, in collaboration with BePlanet. We will use this to support action groups and associations in local projects that improve air quality. The government does not protect us enough, so we go the extra mile ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Demir’s ministry argued the appeal court had only ruled on the timetable, not the measures themselves.
“The Court of Appeal does not question the nature of the measures from the air policy plan and expressly states that our measures are serious and substantiated and that the air policy plan has been drawn up in a serious manner. That is good news and also what we expected,” a spokesperson told the VRT.