Not because the expectation is less serious. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has “systematically and persistently” condemned Spain for failing to comply with environmental pollution limits established in the Air Quality Directive that came into force in 2010 in the Madrid and Barcelona metropolitan areas. Failure to comply with limits on nitrogen dioxide and particulates from traffic causes thousands of premature deaths each year and seriously affects the health of the 7.5 million people living in these two conurbations.
The European Commission opened a file on Spain in 2015 and blocked it in 2018 because of measures adopted by mayors Ada Colau in Barcelona and Manuela Carmena in Madrid. These included setting up low-emission zones and measures to strengthen public transport and clean mobility. However, when the PP’s new mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, announced in May 2019 that he was going to repeal the Madrid Central low-emission zone, community officials reopened the file. The CJEU now considers that between 2010 and 2018, the period analysed, not only were the nitrogen dioxide limits violated, but also the plans were not adopted to comply with the directive with due diligence and speed.
The policies adopted after the reactivation of the file have been more ambitious in Barcelona than in Madrid. The Catalan capital has since 2020 established a low emissions zone that covers 95 of the 101 square kilometers of its municipal area and is a major part of the 636 that make up the 36 municipalities of the metropolitan area, of which 3.3 million people live. , On the other hand, the Madrid Central Low Emission Zone, which has been maintained under another name despite the mayor’s initial promises, covers just 4.72 of the 604 square kilometers of the municipal area, where a population of 3.3 million also lives. This and other differences explain why Barcelona did not exceed annual nitrogen dioxide limits in 2020 and 2021, while Madrid exceeds them every year.
The European court ruling does not currently impose economic sanctions, but if non-compliance continues, Spain could face fines as high as for non-compliance in wastewater treatment, which now total 74.8 million. Euro. The problem will be exacerbated if the European Union lowers current pollution limits in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation. The fines he could eventually impose would thus add to the enormous cost that pollution is already causing. A recent study estimated that the increase in hospital admissions linked to contamination alone costs the Madrid community 202 million euros per year.