“Air quality rules were introduced many years ago, but too many citizens are still exposed to illegally high and harmful concentrations of pollutants,” said Ugo Taddei, a lawyer on clean air from environmental NGO Client Earth.
“Having good legislation in place is only the first step, but then it is very important to enforce the existing rules.
“The problem with the infringement proceedings, apart from the time needed to follow all the steps required under the EU treaties, is one of resources. The commission has limited capacities to bring infringement actions, so it need to prioritise cases.”
Margherita Tolotto, air pollution policy officer at the European Environment Bureau, said: “It’s a sensitive and urgent public health issue so the European Commission should not be afraid to take the necessary action to protect people’s health.
“Once it’s clear that member states are failing, action needs to be quicker.
“National governments are not doing enough, but the European Commission is not reacting fast enough either.”
Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for the environment, said it cost the bloc’s economy 20 billion euros a year to cope with air pollution.
He told Euronews: “The European Commission uses both the carrot and the stick. We encourage member states, we support member states.
“Obviously we have rules and regulations. But on the other hand we use the sticks when we see that member states are not delivering.
“The idea is not to keep coming up with infringements. But the idea is to help these cities – because mostly air pollution is in capital cities – to cope with this problem.
“The infringements are taken very, very seriously and it’s something that is ongoing, not just discussions but also action.
“There have been cases where the infringements have been taken up at a higher level and it’s something we are continuously pushing for.”
Vella’s comments come as the EC published proposals aimed at reducing vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
All but one of the EC’s 30 infringement cases are for exceeding limits on nitrogen dioxide and PM10 dust particles – pollutants that are more prevalent in diesel than petrol fumes.