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Brussels government under pressure over dirty air, after Opinion from EU top court advisor

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has today published an opinion, which piles pressure on the Brussels regional government to protect the health of people in the city.

The opinion relates to the case that ClientEarth and five Brussels residents are pursuing against the regional government over the city’s illegal air pollution.

After a hearing in November 2017, the Court of First Instance of Brussels asked for further guidance from the CJEU on whether citizens can take authorities to court over the lack of adequate monitoring stations and on how authorities should assess compliance with air quality limits.

According to the Advocate General, the CJEU should rule that national courts should carry out a full review of whether monitoring stations are correctly sited and, in particular, that they are sited where the highest concentrations of air pollution occur.

She specifies that, even if authorities have discretion over scientific assessments on where to place monitoring stations, EU law requires judicial review “on account of the importance of the rules on ambient air quality for human life and health”.

In her view, national courts should be able to order authorities to site sampling points at certain locations, if it is clear from the available information that sampling points must be sited there.

The Advocate General has also ruled out any chance of the Brussels government using the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide from the monitoring stations across the region to assess compliance with air quality.

Despite several monitoring stations regularly exceeding the legal limits in Brussels, the regional government has tried to avoid taking action by using the average concentrations across the entire area.

Reacting to the opinion, Ugo Taddei said: “The Advocate General’s opinion is extremely positive for the people of Brussels. She stresses the importance of scrutiny from courts to protect citizens from air pollution and hold governments accountable.

“For too long Brussels authorities have failed to comply with the law. They should not be let off the hook by claiming that courts do not have the power to step in.

“We hope that the CJEU will follow the Advocate General’s recommendations but, most importantly, we hope that the Brussels government will realise that the time to delay taking action by fighting in court is over. What is needed now are ambitious measures to clean up Brussels’ air.”

A ruling from the CJEU is expected in the coming months.

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Ellen Baker