EU dresses down "toxic block" over air pollution


A European Commissioner has criticized nine member states' air pollution and inaction and threatened legal consequences.

Representatives from Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom were summoned by Karmenu Vella, Commissioner in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, to Brussels on Tuesday.

"The seriousness and urgency of air pollution and the lack of satisfying progress observed in relation to the 9 Member States requires effective and timely responses," according to the European Commission.

"I must also stress that this is not just a personal initiative. Today's meeting was held not only with the full support of President Juncker, but also the full support of 500 million citizens," Vella said at a press conference after the meeting.

Official statistics showed that every year, more than 400,000 Europeans die prematurely as a consequence of poor air quality and many more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution. In economic terms, bad air quality costs well over 20 billion euros a year to the European economy, due to increased medical costs and reduced workers' productivity.

Tuesday's summit was apparently unsatisfactory for Karmenu Vella, who said that, "in our exchange, there were some positive suggestions. But these were not substantial enough to change the big picture."

He warned that without new and effective measures, in many cases, air quality standards will further continue to be exceeded for even well beyond 2020.

Vella called on "entire governments, of all Ministers concerned: be it Ministers for transport, energy, industry, agriculture or finance" to put air quality on top agenda.

Otherwise, "inaction also has legal consequences for the Member States in question," he warned.

European Union legislation on ambient air quality and cleaner air sets air quality limits that cannot be exceeded anywhere in the EU, and obliges member states to limit the exposure of citizens to harmful air pollutants.

Despite this obligation, air quality has remained a problem in many places for a number of years. In 23 out of 28 Member States air quality standards are still being exceeded -- in total in over more than 130 cities across Europe.

The nine member states could potentially be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.(2018-01-31 Xinhua)

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