The decision about whether to send nine governments to court for failing to meet EU limits for air quality has been delayed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker.

The move, revealed by POLITICOEurope [€] yesterday, will add at least another month’s delay to a legal process that has already lasted more than a year.

Responding to the news, EEB Policy Officer Margherita Tolotto said:

“President Juncker has often spoken about wanting to create a ‘Europe that protects’ and is ‘big on the big things’ – yet he delays action on air pollution breaches that are harming the health of people in Europe on a massive scale. When our national governments fail to guarantee our right to clean air, we need Europe to step in. This is an unacceptable further delay to a process that has already gone on for too long.”

The POLITICO article quotes a Commission spokesperson saying: “[Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker] has decided that the next infringement cycle will be after the [multiannual financial framework] proposal in May”.

It is not clear why the ‘multiannual financial framework’, better known as the EU budget, should influence a decision to send governments to court for failing to implement EU laws – a process that is supposed to be based on evidence and free from political influence.

After hosting a meeting in January this year, the Commission appeared to be serious about taking action to clean up Europe’s polluted air and an announcement was expected to be made this week.

European legal limits on concentrations of harmful air pollutants are currently breached in more than 130 cities in 23 countries and the European Environment Agency links air pollution to 400,000 premature deaths every year in Europe.

Following the January meeting, national governments were given a final chance to share their plans with the Commission before a decision about sending cases to the European Court of Justice was made. Together with member groups across Europe, the EEB requested copies of documents sent to the Commission ahead of a March deadline – but only two countries, Italy and Slovakia, agreed to share their plans.