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ClientEarth Communications

25th July 2019

Rule of law
Air pollution
Fossil fuels
Defending habitats

EU Commission announces environmental legal action: our response

The European Commission announced today its decision to pursue numerous legal actions against a host of EU countries for failing to comply with their environmental obligations under EU law.

Many of the notices were on subjects where lawyers from ClientEarth are taking action. Below, our lawyers react to the news.

Reacting to the decisions related to the energy sector, our lawyer Sam Bright said:

“The Commission is doubling down on governments who are bending – or ignoring – EU pollution rules for their coal fleets to the detriment of people and nature. These formal legal enforcement steps reinforce our legal arguments in cases we are taking across the EU – including key fights in Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.

“The Commission has flagged the EU’s only area with illegal sulphur dioxide levels, in Bulgaria, blaming it on highly polluting coal plants we are challenging there. It has pulled Romania up on coal plants running illegally, without permits, confirming arguments made by environmental campaigners. It has reiterated the points we raised this week when we challenged the illegal lifetime extension of Greece’s Amyntaio power plant.

“This package has huge implications for coal plants running across the EU. Countries refusing to think beyond coal, at the expense of people’s health, should take this as a clear sign that breaking the law will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”

On the announcements concerning air quality, lawyer Ugo Taddei said:

“We are pleased that the Commission has decided to move forward with new infringement proceedings on air quality.

“We would also like to see action taken against the barriers to access to justice that prevent people from fighting for their right to clean air in countries such as Poland and Bulgaria, which have some of the worst air quality in Europe.

“Without access to the courts, citizens of Bulgaria and Poland are unable to take direct action to demand their governments address this health crisis.”

Commenting on the decisions more broadly related to access to justice, ClientEarth Senior Lawyer Anais Berthier said:

“The Commission must be commended for tackling some access to justice issues in Poland, Austria and Hungary. But it still has not adopted a coherent strategy to systematically tackle access to justice issues for associations and the public in environmental matters.

“Without access to justice, environmental legislation simply cannot be enforced.”

In response to the announcements made about biodiversity, our wildlife lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said:

“The EU has sent a strong message to Poland over its forests and nature sites: the government now has two months to act. If the government fails to better protect the species living in its forests, it could be referred to the EU Court of Justice.

"If it fails to complete the designation of a protected network of the most valuable and threatened sites, Natura 2000, the Commission will take further formal steps.

“Importantly the Commission has also required Polish authorities to allow the public to challenge the legality of forest management plans, which is not currently allowed. In 2016, the public in Poland was blocked from challenging the forest management plans for the Bialowieza forest.

"Ultimately, the Commission brought infringement proceedings in that case and Poland was found to be in breach of EU law. We hope the Polish government reacts appropriately to the Commission and provides the public with a way to challenge such plans directly.”