EU issues legal warning as Bulgarian and Polish governments block right to clean air

Media reaction

15 May 2020

The European Commission has announced it will launch infringement proceedings against the Bulgarian and Polish governments for preventing people going to court to defend their right to breathe healthy air.

The announcement follows a complaint submitted last year by ClientEarth, calling on the European Commission to take action against the governments of the two countries for systemic access to justice barriers.

Reacting to the announcement, ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan said: “Bulgarian and Polish laws make it impossible for people affected by illegal and harmful levels of air pollution to go to court to challenge air quality plans and demand action to protect their health – even though this should be a basic right.

“This situation is particularly alarming given that Bulgaria and Poland have some of the most polluted air in Europe.”

Regina Stoilova, a Bulgarian lawyer from Za Zemiata added: “This decision is a very clear signal that the European Commission stands on the side of EU citizens affected by air pollution and will not tolerate countries disregarding the rule of law in the EU. The Bulgarian and Polish governments must immediately address this long-standing issue and make urgent legal changes to give people access to the courts in environmental and air quality matters.”


Notes to editor:

The Bulgarian and Polish governments now have four months to send detailed replies to the concerns raised by the European Commission. The Commission will then decide whether to take further steps towards bringing the cases before the Court of Justice of the European Union – the EU’s highest court.

ClientEarth is currently supporting concerned EU citizens and civil society organisations to challenge the lack of adequate air quality plans throughout Europe. Most recently in Poland, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the decision to ban solid coal and wood burning in Krakow. The ruling followed an anti-smog resolution approved by Poland’s Regional Administrative Court. ClientEarth’s lawyers were involved in developing the local regulations, as well as amendments to the national environmental bill required for introducing such a ban.

In Bulgaria and Poland, ClientEarth has taken legal action to protect people’s right to clean air, but in contrast to other EU countries, the courts in Bulgaria and Poland have consistently refused to apply EU law and its principles.

About ClientEarth:

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

About Za Zemiata:

Za Zemiata is a Bulgarian environmental organisation working towards the establishment of a just and nature-sensible life on our planet. Za Zemiata’s activities are directed towards limiting the unbalanced impact of globalisation trends through large-scale projects promoted and funded by international financial institutions and transnational corporations.

The organisation’s activities include: raising public awareness about environmental and social issues; facilitating public participation in decision-making processes; promoting sustainable alternatives to environmental problems; preparing case studies and analysis and policy recommendations.

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