As part of a last-ditch effort to bring six EU Member States into line for failing to meet mandated air quality standards, the European Commission on May 17 referred Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Hungary, and Romania to Europe’s highest court after they failed to comply at an earlier stage.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will look into multiple breaches to the EU’s nitrogen dioxide limits by London, Berlin, and Paris, while Italy, Hungary and Romania will be taken to court for particulate standards breach.

The six governments, which were referred to the ECJ along with Spain, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, will face judges in Luxembourg after the Commission finally lost patience after years of air quality breaches that stemmed from their refusal to honour agreed air quality limits and for failing to take appropriate measures to reverse the violations as quickly as possible

The Commission is also issuing additional letters of formal notice to Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom on grounds that they have disregarded EU vehicle-type approval rules.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, said the decision follows through on a threat to the Member States in question that they had received an ample number of final warnings over the last decade to improve the situation.

“It is my belief that today’s decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale. But legal action alone will not solve the problem. That is why we are outlining the type of practical help that the Commission can provide to national authorities in their efforts to promote cleaner air for European cities and towns,” said Vella.

Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska underlined the role that Europe’s car industry has in fighting urban pollution. ”Zero emissions cars are the future. Meanwhile, complying with the emissions legislation is a must. Manufacturers that keep disregarding the law have to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing.”

 “Everyone in Europe has the same right to clean air, and when national governments fail to deliver EU protections, it’s perfectly prudent for the European Commission to step in and protect us from the air we breathe. Today’s announcement should surprise no one, the countries being sent to the court have had too many final warnings,” said European Environmental Bureau Air Quality Policy Officer Margherita Tolotto, who added that “it is essential to understand why some governments, but not others. have been sent to court today. The citizens deserve to know what is being done to protect them from polluted air. The process behind these violations should be far more transparent.”