The European Commission (EC) has sent a final written warning to Estonia, Slovenia and Sweden over breaches of the EU air quality standards for a dangerous airborne pollutant, fine particulate matter or PM 10. The standards entered into force in 2005 and none of the three Member States has requested a time extension to meet them.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Airborne particles are dangerous to human health and it is essential that Member States comply with the EU standards as quickly as possible. Where a Member States in breach of the standards and has not requested a time extension, the Commission has no choice but to take Court action unless they remedy the situation quickly.”
Airborne particles or PM 10 are emitted mainly in pollutant emissions from industry, traffic and domestic heating. Major problems caused are asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and even premature death.
The two binding air quality limit values for particulate matter (PM 10), based on daily and annual average concentrations, entered into force on 1 January 2005. The 2008 Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe 1 allows Member States, under strict conditions, to notify a time extension enabling them to extend the deadline for compliance with the PM 10 standards until 10 June 2011
In January 2009, the Commission launched infringement proceedings against 10 Member States which had not submitted notifications or notified all air quality zones exceeding the limit values for PM 10 (see IP/09/174 ).
Since then all the Member States concerned have submitted a time extension notification except for Estonia, Slovenia and Sweden. These three Member States have meanwhile recently submitted their air quality data for 2008, which shows that the limit values for PM 10 continue to be exceeded in certain air quality zones.
The Commission has therefore sent all three Member States a final written warning indicating that they risk being taken to the European Court of Justice unless they comply with the requirements of the legislation.
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 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” (second and 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, again by issuing a first written warning (“Letter of Formal Notice”) and then a second and final written warning (“Reasoned Opinion”). The Article then allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.