EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has said the “time for delaying” is over after meeting ministers from the nine countries last month about their illegal pollution levels.
He asked members to outline progress made towards complying with the legally binding 40 µg/m3 annual mean target for nitrogen dioxide.
Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Britain, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were granted 10 days to provide evidence of why legal action should not be taken.
Legal procedures have already been launched against Bulgaria and Poland.
The former communist states all have a heavy energy dependency on coal power.
All nine countries submitted additional information before the deadline, which was being evaluated by the commission’s environment directorate, a spokesperson said, adding that a ruling was expected in mid-March.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health and Environment Alliance (Heal) called on the EU to “take decisive action” to clean up air quality.
WHO public health chief Dr Maria Neira told the media in Brussels that “awareness within the public and policy-makers is rising, more and more cities are monitoring air quality and taking action to improve it”.
The fact that action was on the table “has to be used as an example for other countries of how action has to be promoted”, Neira said.
“For us, it is a good news that there is such a pressure, and we will contribute as well,” the WHO chief added.
“I hope that countries are putting in place plans not just because there is a legislation threatening them, but also because it is good to breathe air that is not going to kill you.”
Neira praised the EU’s legally binding air-quality standards to tackle pollution, although they are less stringent than those suggested by the WHO.
“WHO criteria are stricter, but this is compensated by the fact that the legislation in the European Union is very strong [and] a model for the rest of the world,” she said.
In a letter to health ministers and three European commissioners, Heal called on governments and the EU to make air quality and its effects key to climate, energy and transport policy.
Every year around 400,000 people in the EU are estimated to die prematurely because of pollution.
Paris has been told to address its pollution issues. Picture credit: Wikimedia