Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

European Union threatens to sue UK

European Union threatens to sue UK

The European Commission on Thursday made a decision to take Germany and five other European Union member states to court for breaching EU air pollution levels.

The European Commission will take France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Britain to the EU Court of Justice for failing to respect air quality limits, the EU executive said on Thursday.

The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said it was the Commission's responsibility to ensure people could breathe clean air.

In January, the nine countries were found to regularly exceed emissions limits set to protect Europeans against particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), both pollutants.

This is particularly problematic for the government, which has had to defend its own plans to address air quality in the United Kingdom courts on several occasions over the last five years, for failing to bring the United Kingdom into compliance the objective within the "soonest timeframe possible", as required by the legislation.

Among them, Neil Parish, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons" Efra Committee, criticised the government for "failing to come up with a coherent plan' for addressing air pollution.

He said the member states being taken to court had been repeatedly warned to clean up pollution as soon as possible.

Pressure has increased on Italy's environment minister ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels after the World Health Organisation revealed that three Italian cities are the worst in Europe in terms of air pollution and smog.

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Levels of nitrogen dioxide, mostly produced by diesel vehicles, have been illegally high since 2010 in the vast majority of urban areas in the UK.

Three other member states - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Spain - have been given a reprieve.

"We will shortly build on our £3.5 billion plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy setting out a wide range of actions to reduce pollution from all sources". But ministers refused to make them compulsory, instead making them a voluntary and last-resort option for local authorities.

It is unclear when the ECJ's jurisdiction over the UK's environmental concerns will end following Brexit.

The Commission is also issuing additional letters of formal notice to Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom on grounds that they have disregarded European Union vehicle-type approval rules.

The four countries now have two months to reply before further infringement action will be taken.

Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska underlined the role that Europe's auto industry has in fighting urban pollution.

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