The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) condemned Spain this Thursday for systematic violations of Community Standards of air quality in the metropolitan area of Madrid and Barcelona. In these urban agglomerations – home to some 7.5 million people, more than 15% of the country’s inhabitants – annual safety limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) exposure set by the European Union have been repeatedly exceeded since 2010.), A harmful substance is attached. Mainly for combustion vehicles. There is currently no restriction on the punishment now known, but, if the breach continues, the European Commission could take Spain back to court and ask it to face fines, as already with 74.85 million euros. are done. So far as to pay for not treating your wastewater well enough.
The Commission approved an Air Quality Directive in 2008 which established new NO₂ limits that should not be exceeded. They came into force in 2010 and have been violated year after year during the last decade in the municipalities of the metropolitan area of Madrid and Barcelona (which includes the Catalan capital and the municipalities that surround it). Brussels opened a file against Spain for this reason in 2015, however decided to keep it in 2018 with measures such as low-emission zones (in zones) due to anti-pollution plans by Madrid and Barcelona. which is the gateway for the most polluting vehicles). But when José Luis Martínez-Almeida (PP) won the elections in Madrid in May 2019 and announced that he would be the first to suspend the city’s low-emissions zone, the Commission decided to reactivate the file and bring it before the Court of Justice. decided to denounce Spain. of the European Union, the body that has now defected.
The CJEU considers that in the period analyzed – between 2010 and 2018 – “Spain did not ensure that nitrogen dioxide limits were not systematically and consistently exceeded.” Furthermore, “Spain has not ensured that the air quality plan establishes adequate measures so that the duration of exceeding the prescribed limit values for NO₂ is as short as possible”, the court said.
Although the powers are fundamentally municipal, the ruling denounces Spain, which is the only one against which the commission can act. But, if there is an economic sanction in the future, the government could transfer it to the responsible administrations, as it is already doing with part of the million-dollar fines that have been paid for improperly treating wastewater. being done. In any case, the decision made public this Thursday by the CJEU criticized both municipal and state authorities for “not adopting appropriate measures that would make it possible to guarantee that the limit values for NO₂ set by the Directive 2008 The duration of crossing the /50 was as short as possible.”
no state plan
The most extensive breach for which Spain has been condemned refers to nine consecutive years from 2010 to 2018, in which the Madrid and Barcelona metropolitan area exceeded the annual exposure limit for NO₂, which is set at 40 in the current Community Directive. micrograms per cubic meter. And what has happened since 2018? Well, Madrid has failed to comply every year, as reflected in the Ministry of Ecological Transition’s annual air quality report. In the case of the metropolitan area of Barcelona, the nitrogen dioxide limit was exceeded in 2019, but not in 2020 and 2021. Between 2010 and 2018: hourly limit value of 200 micrograms per cubic meter of NO₂ (not to exceed 18 times in a year).
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The 2008 directive required countries to implement air quality plans when safety levels for any pollutant were exceeded. However, in its ruling, the court highlighted the “absence of a state-level plan” in April 2017, which was one of the last deadlines the Commission gave to Spain, despite the fact that the deadline was set for eight months. passed smoothly for years. contamination limit. In addition, the CJUE also briefly analyzes some of the measures adopted by the Association. With regard to Madrid Central—which, after a period of suspension, the PP and Ciudadanos City Council reactivated after changing some aspects and renaming it ZBE District Center—the Court explained that, due to the late implementation In addition, the restrictions only affected Area of 4.72 square kilometres, while Madrid extends to 604.45 square kilometres. Furthermore, “the ban on the circulation of diesel vehicles older than 19 years that it establishes will come into force in 2025 at the earliest.” In the case of the metropolitan area of Barcelona, the court emphasized that the low emissions zone was not created until after the end of the period set by the Commission, and that “its effectiveness is “limited”.
Far from reducing pressure, the commission intends to tighten limits on exposure to various pollutants, including NO₂, harmful particulate matter from traffic and industry. The European Environment Agency has warned that air pollution is responsible for more than 300,000 premature deaths in the European Union. For this reason, Brussels has proposed that the annual exposure limit for NO₂ be raised from the current 40 micrograms per cubic meter to 20 by the end of the decade. Currently, half of Spain’s 80 most populous cities exceed the 20 microgram limit. Brussels has made the proposal in the process of reviewing the Air Quality Directive which has been opened.
One of the reasons that led to this update of the standard by the Commission is the latest review of exposure limits for various contaminants by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO, after accumulating scientific knowledge over the past fifteen years, ruled last year that pollution has harmful effects, even at levels that until now were considered safe.
low emission zone
Although they cannot be considered a definitive solution to the problem of urban pollution, which involves a drastic change in mobility, it is one of the measures that have been implemented in many European cities over the years and that made its way towards the end of the last decade. was making. Spain is setting up a low emissions zone. These are areas where access, operation and parking of vehicles are restricted according to their polluting potential. The Spanish Law on Climate Change and Ecological Transition of May 2021 established that all municipalities in Spain with more than 50,000 inhabitants must have these types of zones “before 2023”. There are 149 cities in which more than 25 million people live, which is more than half of the country’s population.
However, Spain is moving towards a large-scale breach of this legal obligation. According to data collected by EL PAÍS from 149 municipalities, only 20 of these cities – 13.4% – say their low-emission zones will be active by January 2023. The rules for developing these areas are yet to be approved.
The case of Spain is not an isolated one in the European context. Several EU countries, including Germany, Italy and France, have already been condemned for non-compliance with the air quality directive. In 2018, the Commission acknowledged in an official report that air quality standards were “persistently violated” by most European countries. But the analysis acknowledged that in some cases, such as in Spain, the measures that were designed may exceed the limits of the air quality directive. But Martínez-Almeida’s announcements ran out of patience in Brussels after Manuela Carmena’s 2019 defeat in the capital, which reactivated the file against Spain and filed a complaint with the CJEU in the summer of 2019, leading to Convicted this Thursday.
over a decade
- 2008. The Air Quality Directive which gave countries until 2010 to comply with nitrogen dioxide limits was approved.
- June 2015. Spain became the first site to meet these levels.
- February 2017. Brussels prepares a reasoned opinion against Spain for repeated non-compliance in Madrid and Barcelona.
- May 2018. The Commission leaves the file against Spain in abeyance.
- July 2019. Brussels reactivated the case following the PP’s announcement of Madrid Central’s suspension and censured Spain before the EU Court of Justice (CJEU).
- February 2022. Oral hearings of the case for which Spain has now been sentenced for failing to comply with pollution levels in Madrid and Barcelona are held in the CJUE.
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