New pollution plans must bring EU closer to WHO air quality rules by 2030, says Commissioner

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By Gregoire Lory
A layer of smog covers the city of Brussels on Friday March 14, 2014.
A layer of smog covers the city of Brussels on Friday March 14, 2014.   -   Copyright  Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP   -  

Brussels has proposed new, stricter rules on air quality, with the "most important" part aiming to bring the EU closer to the World Health Organization's (WHO) standards by 2030, the European Commissioner for Environment told Euronews.

Virginijus Sinkevičius said that this goal is crucial if we are to achieve the amibition of zero pollution by 2050, given that air pollution causes the premature deaths of 300,000 people in Europe every year.

"The most important goal is, of course, to ensure that by 2030 we get closer to WHO standards and put the EU on the trajectory of zero pollution ambition by 2050," the Commissioner explained Wednesday. 

"What zero pollution actually means is that, for example, our air quality standards are that high, that pollution is no longer harmful anymore to our citizens health."

He added that with this new proposal pollution-related deaths in Europe could be reduced by 78% over the next 10 years, which will also be "beneficial for our economy".

Within the plans, there will also be more clarity on access to justice, according to the Commissioner.

"If citizens health was damaged due to poor air quality and the legislation was not enforced, citizens will be able to go to court to seek justice."

On Monday, nine Belgian citizens concerned about air pollution sued the country's regional governments for infringement of their fundamental rights, as well as to denounce the inaction of public authorities. 

Euronews spoke to one of the plaintiffs in the case, 34 year-old Eric Vandezende, who thought he no longer suffered from asthma, but found trouble breathing again in recent years.

"Five years ago my asthma came back and I realised that there was a direct link with air pollution because when I had breathing problems I phoned my Pulmonologist and she told me that I was free to double my dose of cortisone for a few weeks, but you should know that your phone call coincides with a pollution peak [in the city]," Vandezende said.

The legal action launched Monday comes a few weeks after seven citizens opened a similar case in Germany.

The nine Belgian complainants are calling on the authorities to reduce the pollution thresholds in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.