Air Clean Up

20 Cities around Europe Challenge Contradictory EU Rulings on Air Pollution Standards

May 27 2016 Read 1269 Times

The mayors of 20 cities across Europe have united to challenge the EU’s relaxation of its diesel emissions standards, claiming that the decision is contradictory to its stringent regulations on national and international air quality.

At present, the EU is prosecuting several countries around the continent for having illegal levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in their atmosphere. However, it has made compliance with these regulations far harder for the countries in question by relaxing laws on the automotive industry. This relaxation has come in the form of deferring the enforcement of its real-world emissions testing system until 2017, and allowing non-compliance with the standards by up to 50% until 2020.

Such contradictory legislation has infuriated the mayors of many cities across Europe, leading to them issuing an open letter to the EU in the French newspaper Le Monde back in March, with legal proceedings in the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) being launched at the beginning of this month.

Conflicting Directives

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal and the COP21 climate change talks in Paris last year, it has become clear that the time for change is now. In response, the EU introduced a more stringent test for diesel vehicles designed to emulate real-world test conditions.

The tests had been initially well-received among environmentalists and governments but raised an outcry from car manufacturers, who claimed they had not been given enough time to comply. As a result, the EU decided to relax the laws earlier this year by allowing new diesel vehicles to emit 50% more NOx than the legal limit until 2020.   

At the same time, they have also tightened legislation on the amount of NOx that member states are lawfully allowed to have in their environment, thus making the job all the harder for them to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution. Currently, the United Kingdom is being prosecuted for illegal levels of pollution for the fifth year running, while France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain are also in breach of the law.

Calling for Consistency

Back in March, 20 cities called for the EU to be consistent across its air pollution regulation standards in an open letter.

“We believe that this decision is unfair and wrong. It is unacceptable to introduce emissions thresholds, only to allow them to be violated,” the mayors stated. “It cannot be right to impose a duty upon public authorities to comply with air pollution standards, while at the same time giving the automotive industry the green light to infringe them.”

Before beginning legal proceedings, the cities had to wait until the relaxation of the real-world emissions tests had passed into EU law. Now that they have been given the green light, the mayors will take the EU to the CJEU this year.

“We will launch civil action cases at the CJEU for an annulment, along with 19 other European cities, and for compensation,” said a spokeswoman for Anne Hidalgo, who is the mayor of Paris. ““If the CJEU will not receive our complaint, we will ask the French government to take action. It should accept, as Ségolène Royal has publically supported the petition,” the spokeswoman went on, referring to the French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.

The 20 cities include Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Lisbon, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Amsterdam, Athens, Warsaw and Vienna. A notable exception to the list is London, with previous mayor Boris Johnson a vocal supporter of the UK leaving the EU. It remains to be seen what tack the new mayor Sadiq Khan will take.


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