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European Law Monitor newsEnvironment: Commission welcomes EP vote on the air quality directive

The European Commission welcomes the European Parliament's second reading amendments today on the directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe which confirmed the recent agreement negotiated between the Portuguese presidency and the Parliament. The agreement mirrors both institution's strong commitment to improving air quality, setting for the first time binding standards for fine particles PM2.5.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Air pollution causes major problems for the environment and the health of European citizens. Therefore I am pleased that the agreement reached on air quality addresses this problem and provides ambitious, but realistic and timely standards for fine particle PM2.5 pollution in the European Union."

The directive on air quality is one of the key measures outlined in the 2005 Thematic Strategy on air pollution adopted by the Commission in September 2005 (IP/05/1170 ) that establishes ambitious, cost-effective targets for improving human health and environmental quality up to 2020.

The text approved by Parliament is the result of an agreement reached between the European Parliament and Council. It merges four directives and one Council decision into a single directive on air quality. The negotiations between the two institutions focused particularly on setting standards and target dates on fine particles, which together with coarser particles known as PM10 already subject to legislation, are among the most dangerous pollutants for the health of human beings.

Reducing fine particles concentrations

Member States will be required to reduce exposure levels in urban areas to PM2.5 by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 exposure levels. The final agreement introduces an additional condition which obliges Member states to bring exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015 in these areas. Throughout their territory Member States will need to respect the PM2.5 limit value set at 25 micrograms/m3. This value must be achieved by 2015 or, where possible, already by 2010.

Flexibility in meeting air quality standards

The new directive will not change the existing air quality standards, but would give Member States more flexibility in meeting some of these standards in areas where they have difficulty complying. Meeting PM10 limit values is proving challenging for 26 of the 27 EU Member States which are exceeding these limits in at least one part of their territory.

Under the agreed text the deadlines for complying with these standards can be postponed by up to the three years after the directive's entry into force (mid-2011), provided that the relevant EU legislation such as industrial pollution prevention and control (IPPC, see MEMO/07/441 ) is fully implemented, and that all appropriate abatement measures are being taken. The directive provides a list of measures that need to be considered.

European Union measures are important to effectively reduce emissions. Upon final approval by the Council the new directive will be published in the EU's Official Journal alongside a Commission declaration on progress in developing and adopting further measures as outlined by the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution.

A review of the directive is required by 2013.