Biggest EU countries receive warnings on low air quality – Belgium next in line?
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
The European Commission have sent final warnings to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The five Member States are urged to take action to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health.
Today’s warnings (reasoned opinions) are part of the Commission’s infringement procedure against Member States that fail to communicate measures that fully transpose the provisions of directives or do not rectify the suspected violation of EU law. If the Member State still does not comply within two months, the Commission may decide to refer the matter to the Court of Justice.
In fact infringement procedures have been opened against 12 Member States for not complying with emission limits for either NO2 or particulate matter (PM10) or both. Belgium is one of the countries that are subject to an on-going infringement procedure on both pollutants.
Asked by the Brussels Times at today’s press briefing (15 February) if Belgium and other countries will also receive final warnings, the Commission spokesperson replied that all concerned Member States are reviewed continuously and that the Commission may consider measures against them any month.
Facts on air pollution in Europe
The Commission mentions that more than 400 000 citizens die prematurely in the EU each year as a result of poor air quality. Millions more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution.
Persistently high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused almost 70 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013, which was almost three times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents in the same year.
EU legislation on ambient air quality sets limit values for air pollutants.. In case such limit values are exceeded, Member States are required to adopt and implement air quality plans that set out appropriate measures to bring this situation to an end as soon as possible.
Possible measures to lower polluting emissions, at the same time accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy, include reducing overall traffic volumes, the fuels used, switching to electric cars and/or adapting driving behaviour. In this context, reducing emissions from diesel-powered vehicles is an important step towards achieving compliance with EU air quality standards.
Road traffic is responsible for around 40% of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in the EU. At ground-level the relative contribution of traffic is much higher. Of the total emitted NOx from traffic, around 80% comes from diesel powered vehicles.