United Kingdom taken to Europe's highest court over air pollution

EC “stepping up enforcement” on air pollution

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 Court of Justice (ECJ) will look into multiple breaches to the EU's nitrogen dioxide limits by London, Berlin, and Paris, while Italy, Hungary and Romania will be taken to court for particulate standards breach.

"The member states referred to the Court today have received sufficient "last chances" over the last decade to improve the situation", Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vella, explained.

The EC said it is taking action to "address the significant and persistent exceedances of limit values for two key pollutants with health impacts: nitrogen dioxide, which is mostly a result of road traffic and industry, and particulate matter, which is mainly present in emissions from industry, domestic heating, traffic, and agriculture".

"The current plans by the Government to enforce these kind of rules are simply not up to the task - and they clearly need an urgent rethink to ensure environmental protection isn't sacrificed as we hurtle towards Brexit".

Mr Vella said: "The decision to refer member states to the Court of Justice of the EU has been taken on behalf of Europeans".

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Action against the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain has not been pursued as measures being put in place in each of the countries, "appear to be appropriate, if implemented" the Commission has claimed.

"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". If it declares the United Kingdom in breach of its legal duty, the United Kingdom gets a period of time to resolve the situation.

The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator said in order for a trade deal to be signed Britain would have to continue to comply with the EU's environmental regulations. The Commission should have made no exceptions and referred them all. If it does not, the court can then impose large fines. Recently, there were accusations that the EU was unfairly targeting Eastern Europe, where fossil fuels still reign supreme, but today's ruling for the first time names and shames Western European countries.

In light of the continuing fall-out from the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, the Commission is also taking action against four member states that "disregarded European Union vehicle type approval rules".

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

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