[JURIST] The European Commission [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that it has initiated infringement proceedings [EC backgrounder] against ten European Union (EU) member states for failing to comply with legislation aimed at reducing emissions of certain harmful airborne particulates called PM10. The EU implemented heightened PM10 standards under last June's Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe [Directive 2008/50/EC materials], which allowed member states to seek extensions to meet the new standards where effort and extenuating external circumstances were demonstrated. Though 23 of the 27 member states were found to have fallen short of the directive's standards, the European Commission issued warning letters only to those 10 countries who failed to request an extension. Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK now must submit observations on their alleged noncompliance and possibly face further legal action under EC Treaty Article 226 [text] for infringing EU law, which could ultimately result in an action before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website; JURIST news archive] and substantial fines [Article 228 backgrounder]. Finland, Lithuania, Ireland, and Luxembourg were considered to be in compliance with the law, and the European Commission is currently assessing whether to approve time extension requests filed by 11 member states. Romania and Bulgaria, the most recent countries to accede to the EU, must file extension requests before March 31. In the Thursday communique, European Commissioner for Environment Stavros Dimas called compliance with the directive standards "our utmost priority" and emphasized that any extensions granted to member states will be "complemented by strict enforcement action by the Commission."
The carcinogenic PM10 [EPA backgrounder] particles are emitted primarily by automobiles, industrial sources, and domestic heating systems. The European Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that EU law is applied throughout all member states and for taking legal action [JURIST report] against infringers, has led the charge for tightened environmental standards, including a 2007 proposal for all EU Member States to criminalize [JURIST report] serious environmental offenses and impose minimum sanctions for violations.