The European Commission referred two member countries from the Balkans to the Court of Justice of the European Union for breaches in air pollution. Greece and Bulgaria don’t comply with limit values for particulate matter PM10. The EU also reprimanded them for their track record in environmental protection and also called on 13 member states and the UK to submit long-term building renovation strategies.
The European Commission said it launched procedures before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) against Bulgaria and Greece, citing excessive air pollution. The same judicial institution ruled in May against Romania over air pollution in its capital city. Of note, Bucharest and Sofia are in the group of European cities with the highest health-related social costs of air pollution.
The government in Sofia failed to ensure full compliance with the court’s judgement from April 2017, which found that it had breached its obligations under the EU Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality legislation, according to the announcement.
“In particular, Bulgaria systematically and continuously failed to comply with the limit values for particulate matter PM10 and to adopt appropriate measures to keep the period of exceedance as short as possible. In order to comply with the judgement, Bulgaria is expected to adopt and implement a series of legislative and administrative measures,” the EU’s executive branch said.
PM10 breaches in Bulgaria are some of the worst in EU
The commissioners noted the move may result in penalties for the time elapsed after the first judgement until achieving compliance. Bulgaria has the obligation to ensure that all its air quality zones and agglomerations comply with the limit values set in the directive.
In the referral to the EU Court of Justice, the European Commission pointed to “some of the most severe exceedances” of both annual and daily limit values of PM10 among the member countries. Bulgaria reported that most of the measures are at a preparatory stage or to be implemented with effect as late as 2024, according to the announcement.
There are as many as 90 days per year above the daily limits or over 2.5 times more than permitted under the directive.
Dispute over birds, habitats
Separately, the commission sent a a final warning to the Balkan country over systemic failures in its implementation of EU legislation on birds and habitats that stipulates the establishment of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
Bulgaria must secure protection for Natura 2000 network areas
“In Bulgaria, cumulative impacts of existing and authorized plans and projects in Natura 2000 areas have systematically been neglected when assessing the impacts of new plans and projects. Therefore many developments representing a major threat to conservation objectives have been authorized,” the statement reads.
Bulgaria now has two months to remedy the situation, the commission said and pointed out that it may refer the case to the CJEU in Luxembourg.
Government in Athens to go to Court of Justice for failing to tackle air pollution in Thessaloniki
Greece was also referred to the EU Court of Justice for air pollution in the PM10 category. “Greece has not respected the daily limit values for PM10 concentrations, which have been legally binding since 2005. Greece has failed to fulfil its obligations to keep the exceedance period as short as possible and has not taken adequate measures for the reduction of the PM10 concentrations in the agglomeration of Thessaloniki,” the notice reveals.
PM10 air pollution has been exceeding limit values since 2005
The EU underscored that member states are required to adopt air quality plans if limit values are exceeded. The breaches in the Thessaloniki area have been registered since 2005, only with the exception of 2013.
Greece must comply with rules on protection of species
Moreover, the commission is requesting Greece to implement the judgement of the Court of Justice of the EU regarding the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora as required under the Habitats Directive, highlighting the need to protect the Caretta caretta sea turtle.
In its judgment from November 2016, the court ruled against Greece for failing to take the required measures to avoid the disturbance of protected species and deterioration of protected habitats in Kyparissia in the Peloponnese. It found that Greece had tolerated the implementation of various projects or activities in breach of the directive.
The commission threatened to refer the case back to the Court of Justice and request that fines be imposed.
Warning on missed deadline regarding energy efficiency in buildings
Separately, the EU warned 13 member states and the United Kingdom to submit their national long-term renovation strategies. The deadline under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2010/31/EU) was March 10.
Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and the United Kingdom must act on the decision to decarbonize their existing building stock by 2050.