EU Court rules on air pollution standards

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled Wednesday regarding how member states should interpret air quality regulations set up by the Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 (Directive 2008/50) on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe.

The judgment is in regard to a case where Brussels citizens sued two Belgian agencies, Brussels Capital Region and the Brussels Institute for Environmental Management, over excessive air pollution. The Dutch-language Court of First Instance, Brussels stayed the proceedings in order to ask the ECJ for interpretation on Directive 2008/50. The ECJ was asked to answer two different questions:

  1. Should national courts have the power to decide whether member states are in compliance with Directive 2008/50 when it is alleged that member states are not satisfying the air pollution sampling criteria of the directive?
  2. If the average air pollution measurement at one measuring site exceeds maximum levels of Directive 2008/50, does that constitute a violation of the directive? Or should air pollution measurements be averaged across all measuring sites of a member nation?

The ECJ decided that the national courts must decide if a member state is violating Directive 2008/50 and that the average air pollution measurements of individual sites must be considered.

[I]t is for a national court, hearing an application submitted for that purpose by individuals directly affected by the exceedance of the limit values referred to in [Directive 2008/50], to verify whether the sampling points located in a particular zone have been established in accordance with the criteria laid down in [Directive 2008/50]…

Directive 2008/50 must be interpreted as meaning that, in order to establish whether a limit value with an averaging period of one calendar year … has been exceeded, it is sufficient that a pollution level higher than that value be measured at a single sampling point.

The lawsuit will now return to the Belgian courts.