UK and five others are being taken to court – accused of failing to reduce air pollution

The European Commission announced in the end of last week that it will refer six EU countries to the Court of Justice of the European Union for their prolonged failure to address air pollution. Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and Hungary could face huge fines, on-going until the problem is solved.

This announcement should surprise no-one. The governments of these six countries have had too many final warnings and have already lost a series of battles in the European Union’s top court on air pollution.

“We have waited a long time and we cannot possibly wait any longer,” said Karmenu Vella, European Сommissioner for Environment. “We have said that this commission is one that protects. Our decision follows through on that claim. It is my conviction that today’s decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale.”

Environmentalists say that by taking the UK to the European Court of Justice, the EU has demonstrated what will be lost after Brexit. Also Green campaigners have warned that the current plans would leave Britain with a weaker mechanisms for enforcing environmental safeguards than those maintained in the United States by Donald Trump.

The Environment Secretary of the United Kingdom, Michael Gove, previously promised to deliver a “green Brexit”, ensuring that governance of the environment would not be diluted when the UK leaves the EU. But he revealed last week that the new post-Brexit UK environmental watchdog he proposes would not have the power to take the government to court over breaches of air quality standards.

UK Green Party MEPs and the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament have welcomed the decision of the European Commission to refer several EU countries to court over their failure to take action on air quality. Keith Taylor, Green party MEP, said: “The Commission is being forced to take legal action against the UK because the government remains steadfastly apathetic in the face of a public health crisis that is linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year. Post-Brexit, this is exactly the kind of scrutiny and oversight the Tories plan to escape. Proposals for a so-called environment watchdog that is nothing but a lame lapdog without the legal teeth to take the government to court put this reality in sharp relief.”

“This is particularly concerning as legal action by the Commission and environmental lawyers, on the basis of EU law, has been the only way to force the UK government to take any action on air pollution at all. Without a body with the legal might to enforce the EU’s vital air pollution laws post-Brexit, the Conservatives would be left to stand idly by while Britain chokes,” he added.

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