This morning, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced that the United Kingdom alongside other member states including France and Germany, are to be referred to the EU Court of Justice for failure to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution since 2010 (see airqualitynews.com story).
Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and Hungary have also been referred to the court for breaching pollution levels.
"The commission had to conclude that. that the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible, and therefore are being referred to court", Vella said.
The commission said that Britain had broken limits for nitrogen dioxide, largely produced by diesel vehicles, and had failed to provide "credible, effective and timely" plans to cut pollution.
However, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told a press conference in Brussels the six, which include Europe's top four economies, had not acted quickly enough.
Today's announcement should surprise no one, the countries being sent to the court have had too many final warnings", said European Environmental Bureau Air Quality Policy Officer Margherita Tolotto, who added that "it is essential to understand why some governments, but not others. have been sent to court today. "We will shortly build on our £3.5bn plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive clean air strategy".
For the EU Commission, they had sent similar warnings to Spain, Slovakia and the Czech Republic but these countries had managed to hand in a set of actions believed to be sufficient to curb air pollution and emissions.
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. In our joint inquiry into air quality, we found little evidence of the decisive steps needed to protect the public.
The European legal case now moves to the ECJ, which will hold a hearing within months.
The Luxembourg-based court can impose heavy fines. But Vella also admitted that "legal action alone will not solve the problem".
The Frenchman said there could be no reduction in environmental standards after Brexit as Britain could otherwise seek a "competitive advantage" over its neighbours. The nations have two months to reply to prevent action from being escalated. "Manufacturers that keep disregarding the law have to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing".