European Court of Justice clarifies rules on air quality values

The Air Quality Directive sets some limit values for certain polutant in ambient air and mandates Member States to limit nitrogen dioxide values by 1 January 2010. It further offers the possibility in a zone or agglomeration in which conditions are particularly difficult to postpone measures up to 1 January 2015.

Hearing the case as final court of appeal, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has asked the Court of Justice whether, where the limit values were not met by 1 January 2010, a Member State was obliged to apply for a postponement of the deadline.

The ECJ concludes the following:

  • Setting Nitrogen dioxide limit value is obligatory "to achieve a certain result"
  • To publish an air quality plan (...) does not, in itself, permit the view to be taken that that Member State has nevertheless met its obligations.
  • Member States can only delay compliance strictly if 'acute compliance problems exist'. The Member State should also make an application for postponement.
  • It is for the national court having jurisdiction to take any necessary measure so that the authority establishes the plan required by the directive in accordance with the conditions laid down by the latter.

For furhter information on the Air Quality Directive, please refer to Polis Brief.

The ECJ ruling is available here as well as the Court's press release