New legal concept by the commission to improve air quality
The new approach to infringement proceedings is the Commission's response to a series of mistakes in previous cases against Member States. In the cases of the Commission versus Sweden, Slovenia, Portugal and Italy, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Member States had breached their obligation under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC). However, these decisions did not have any practical consequences, as the Court merely stated that the Member States had exceeded the particulate matter limits in previous years. The Court did not rule as to whether the states would also exceed the fixed limits in the future, nor did it demand the implementation of specific measures in regard to air pollution control. For this reason, the Commission initiated new infringement proceedings against Member States based on two fundamental legal principles:
- Infringement of the obligation to comply with the air quality limit values in the specified period (Article 13)
- Infringement of the obligation to draft air quality plans that include appropriate measures so that the period of non-compliance can be kept as short as possible (Article 23)
Infringement proceedings by the European Commission include various steps:
- Letter of Formal Notice - a first written warning, in which the Commission invites the Member State to submit its observations in regard to a problem within a certain period of time (2 months).
- Reasoned Opinion - a final written warning, according to which the Member State is required to comply with the infringed requirement within a certain deadline.
- Referral to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) under Article 258
- First ECJ judgement - If the Court states in its judgement that a Member State has failed to fulfil its obligations, that Member State must implement the necessary measures to comply with the judgement.
- Second referral to the ECJ - If, despite the judgement of the Court, a Member State still fails to fulfil its obligations, the Commission may initiate further infringement proceedings under Article 260 of the Treaty and propose to impose financial penalties.
- Second ECJ judgement - The Court can impose a lump sum based on the time elapsed since the first judgment or a daily penalty from the second court ruling up until the end of the infringement.
The following table shows countries in which the European Commission has already initiated written warnings or infringement proceedings.