28 October, 2019

EU court ruling may force France into diesel city bans

A defeat in the European Court of Justice may lead to France introducing citywide bans on diesel vehicles in an effort to reduce air pollution.

In the first ruling following a recent crackdown on pollution in nations including Germany, Italy and the UK, judges said France ‘systematically and persistently exceeded the annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide since 1 January 2010.’

‘On 7 March 2012, France requested the Commission to delay the deadline imposed for compliance with the nitrogen dioxide limit values set by the Air Quality Directive,’ the court stated in a release. ‘That request concerned the annual limit values in 24 zones of the French territory and the hourly limit values in three of those zones. The Commission raised objections to that delay request. France did not challenge those objections and was, therefore, under an obligation to comply with the nitrogen dioxide limit values.’

Legal action

The European Commission sued the nations that have breached air pollution limits last year, saying they had failed to meet limits on nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. Road vehicles, especially diesel vehicles, are the main cause of these. It is for this reason that vehicles meeting Euro 5 standards and below are banned from several German cities, as these models are often cited as the dirtiest of diesel vehicles.

The commission singled out the cities of Paris and Nice as the main culprits of air pollution breaches in France, stating that the country did not implement appropriate and effective measures to ensure that the exceedance period of nitrogen dioxide limit values would be kept as short as possible.

‘France does not dispute the fact that there have been persistent exceedances of the hourly and annual limit values of nitrogen dioxide in the zones and agglomerations which are the subject of the action brought by the Commission. However, France disputes the allegedly systematic nature of those exceedances,’ the court said.

In its judgement, the Court states that the fact of exceeding the nitrogen dioxide limit values in ambient air is, in itself, sufficient for a finding that there has been a failure to fulfil the obligation laid down.

Next steps

The ruling indicates how cases against the other nations facing legal action will go, and highlights the pressure that countries are under to meet air pollution targets.

For France, the action could result in the country banning diesel vehicles, at least those that fall under Euro 5 or below legislation, from Paris and Nice, with the possibility of extending that action across the country.

The ruling will also come as a blow to French President Emmanuel Macron, who since taking office in 2017 has sought to improve his country’s environment. France will introduce a ban on petrol and diesel car sales from 2040 in an effort to tackle air pollution, and the President has been a vocal proponent of stricter climate policies in the EU.