Member States will be sent to court for failing to act on air quality, European Commissioner Karmenu Vella has confirmed while speaking to the European Parliament this afternoon.

Nine EU member states are facing being sent to Europe’s top court for their failure to clean up polluted air while European air quality limits are being breached in 130 cities in a total of 23 countries.

Today’s announcement was the first confirmation from the EU’s Environment Commissioner that he would recommend further legal action be pursued against at least some of the ‘toxic bloc’ of nine serial offenders that were summoned to Brussels to explain their inaction earlier this year.

The environment ministers from the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom – all of which still burn coal to generate electricity – were asked to submit further details about how they would cut air pollution ahead of a deadline this year.

Countries that fail to comply with EU law can be taken to court by the European Commission to force them to act. A court ruling could result in fines.

After confirming that the Commission has evaluated documents submitted by national governments since the meeting in January, Commissioner Vella told the European Parliament today that he:

“…will indeed propose to the College [of European Commissioners] to proceed with a number of these cases as part of the Commission’s next infringement cycle at the end of April”

Margherita Tolotto, the EEB’s Policy Officer for Air and Noise said:

“We are yet to have seen any proposals that contain measures substantial enough to tackle the air pollution crisis that Europe is facing. The Commission has no choice but to act to protect European citizens from harmful pollution and we welcome today’s announcement.”

However, she also warned that it was essential that transparency around the Commission’s decisions be improved.

“It’s essential that the public know why legal action is being taken against some governments but not against others. There is huge public interest in ensuring a clean and healthy environment for everyone in Europe and decisions that can ensure this should not be made behind closed doors.”

Commissioner Vella’s announcement did not come out of the blue, as the inevitability of legal action was reported in META as early as the beginning of February.

The EU has already sent cases against Bulgaria and Poland to court. Bulgaria was the first country to be ordered to take action to improve its air quality in a landmark ruling in April last year. A similar ruling against the Polish government followed during a big week for air pollution legal action in February this year.

The ongoing breaches concern concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny particles of harmful dust known as PM. European Environment Agency data shows 19 EU countries were breaching the annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and seven countries were breaching the annual limit for fine particles in 2015 – the last year for which data is available.