European Union takes United Kingdom to court over air pollution

EU environment boss Karmenu Vella finally lost patience with six member states

But Vella also admitted that "legal action alone will not solve the problem". This EU type-approval legislation requires Member States to have "effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalty systems" in place to deter vehicle manufacturers from breaking the law.

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.

The UK and five other nations have been referred to Europe's highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

The EU Commission had sent letters to countries and cities exceeding air pollution levels repeatedly but with the member states having failed to act, they will now be taken to court.

Whilst the states had proposed additional measures following these warnings, Vella said the EU Commission had to conclude that "the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible".

The EU estimates that air pollution costs the bloc 20 billion euros ($24.7 billion) a year in health costs, but says this could be reduced if member states comply with agreed emissions limits.

EU to take six countries to the court over air quality standards
EU takes six countries to court over air pollution

EU law obliges member states, in accordance with the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, to maintain air quality standards and limit values for PM10, which may not exceed an annual average of 40 µg/m3 and 50 µg/m3 per day. The Commission should have made no exceptions and referred them all. "That is why we are outlining the type of practical help that the Commission can provide to national authorities in their efforts to promote cleaner air for European cities and towns", said Vella.

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".

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

"Today's announcement should surprise no one, the countries being sent to court have had too many final warnings", the EEB's Margherita Tolotto said.

Especially in Germany, where the auto industry is considered one of the backbones of the country's economy, this decision might cause ripples.

"We can not wait any longer", he added.

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