The Commission is sending Bulgaria and Spain to Europe’s highest Court for repeatedly breaching EU air quality standards and failing to guarantee citizens’ right to clean air.
The legal action was announced within the infringement package published today.

“We welcome the Commission’s initiative to step in and protect us from breathing toxic air. National governments’ failure to enforce air pollution limits is a threat to people’s health, and it’s high time that they face the consequences of their inaction. The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations with around 140 organisations in more than 30 countries,” said Margherita Tolotto, Policy Officer for Air Pollution and Noise with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

The Commission accused Bulgaria “persisting non-compliance” with hourly and daily limits values of sulphur dioxide (SO2), a harmful pollutant pumped into the air when coal is burnt. Back in 2017 Bulgaria had already been referred to the court over poor air quality for breaching limit values for particulate matter PM10.

“Not only Bulgaria fails to ensure respect of SO2 limits, it recently even granted a derogation allowing one of the biggest power plants in the region to disregard EU emissions standards. Combined with missing the chance to cut SO2 emissions from the power sector by 2030 through the implementation of EU National Emission Ceilings Directive, this is a clear indication that Bulgaria is sticking to dirty coal at the expense of its own citizens’ health. The Commission’s action is welcome,” commented Ivaylo Hlebarov, Clean air campaigner at Za Zemiata – Friends of the Earth Bulgaria.

Spain is accused of breaching limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is mostly caused by dirty diesel-fueled transport. Last month environmental groups had called on the Commission to take legal action against Spain’s air quality infringement, following a decision by the Mayor of Madrid to scrap the city’s Low Emission Zone.

“Spain has been delaying action for too long. Most polluted cities like Madrid and Barcelona have just understood that fighting air pollution means keeping private cars out of the city, but recent political decisions to revert some of the most successful measures, such as the Madrid LEZ, have moved things in the opposite direction of what was needed, and the decision by the EC of taking Spain to court is a coherent one. The EC has run out of patience,” commented Samuel Martín-Sosa, International Coordinator at Ecologistas en Acción, Spain.
The infringement package also includes letters of formal notice to Romania, Croatia, Greece and Poland for breaching EU air quality standards.