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Brussels, 20 November 2009

Air quality: Commission sends warnings to eight Member States over failures to comply with EU air quality standards

The European Commission today warned eight Member States for their continuing failures to improve air quality. Letters have been sent to Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, and Romania. The warnings come over excess emissions of tiny airborne particles known as PM 10. Under European legislation, certain limits were to be met by 2005. Numerous Member States applied to extend the time for meeting the PM 10 standard until June 2011, and some extensions were granted to countries clearly striving to improve compliance. Today's letters target the countries judged to be falling behind. France is also receiving a separate letter over its failure to control emissions of sulphur dioxide.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Particulate matter in air pollution has serious impacts on human health, and strict standards are required. These standards have to be enforced to protect citizens around the EU, and I therefore call on these eight Member States to remedy these shortcomings and improve protection for citizens as soon as possible. Human health is top priority. It cannot afford to wait."

Several years behind schedule

First written warnings have been sent to Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania for delays in meeting air quality requirements.

European legislation obliges Member States to introduce limit values for PM 10 by 2005. The limits impose both an annual concentration value (40 μg/m3), and a daily concentration value (50 μg/m3) which must not be exceeded more than 35 times per calendar year. 1 Countries may apply for exemptions from the PM 10 limit values until June 2011, but these exemptions are subject to a number of conditions. Member States must demonstrate that they have taken steps to achieve compliance by the extended deadline, and are implementing an air quality plan setting out the relevant abatement actions for each air quality zone.

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Hungary and Slovakia had applied for extensions, but the Commission was not convinced by their actions to date. The annual air quality report provided by these Member States for 2008 showed that the limit values are continually exceeded in several zones, and the Commission takes the view that these seven Member States are therefore failing to fulfil their obligations.

Romania was warned that it had to submit a notification before the end of March 2009, but failed to do so. The Commission is therefore sending a first written warning.

Sulphur dioxide in France

In a separate case, France is also receiving a final written warning for its failure to control limit values for sulphur dioxide. The Commission first warned France in June about the measures in place to meet limit values for sulphur dioxide, but reports show that five industrial areas are still exceeding the limits for S0 2. The areas concerned are Fos-sur-Mer, Rouen, Lacq, Estuaire de la Seine and Région Rhône-Alpes, where exceedances for sulphur dioxide concentrations were reported in 2005, 2006 and 2007. If no further action is taken, France is not expected to conform with European legislation until 2012. A final written warning has therefore been sent.

Background: health impacts

Airborne particles (PM 10) are mainly in pollutant emissions from industry, traffic and domestic heating. They can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations within a specified period, usually within two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, normally two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.

Further information

Lists of zones in exceedence by Member State:

Time extension website:

1 :

Directive 1999/30/EC of 22 April 1999 relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air

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