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Clean air in Europe: more ambitious, more flexible

Cleaner air in Europe: more ambitious targets but greater flexibility

MEPs adopted a codecision report (first reading) by Holger Krahmer (ALDE, DE) on the directive on the quality of ambient air, with 571 votes in favour, 43 against and 18 abstentions. Parliament calls for more ambitious targets than those set out by the Commission for cutting maximum concentrations of pollutants, in particular PM2.5.

At the same time the Parliament calls for more flexibility in achieving the targets, to allow Member States, areas and cities which have problems meeting the criteria more time to adjust. However, there will be safeguards to ensure that Member States take the measures needed to reduce pollution. According to Mr Krahmer, the EP position is a balanced compromise between strict health protection and the flexibility needed at national level, notably for regions suffering from pollution coming from neighbouring countries.

Technical details

• Parliament wants to reduce maximum concentration levels of the largest particles - known as PM10 - to 33 µg/m3 on average per year from 2010, as compared to the Commission's proposal to keep the limit at 40µg/m3. However, for the daily limits for these same particles - where the Commission says a figure of 50µg/m3 should not be exceeded more than 35 times per year - MEPs want greater flexibility (a maximum of 55 days per year) for Member States unable to meet the standards because of special geographical or climatic conditions or significant cross-boundary pollutions .

• For fine particles (PM2.5), which do the most damage to human lungs, MEPs believe it is too soon to set limit values, given the current state of scientific knowledge. Instead they suggest initially setting a target figure, which is less binding. However, it is lower than that proposed by the Commission (20µg/m3 from 2010 instead of 25µg/m3) and would become binding when the directive is revised in 2015 (and would still be 20µg/m3, whereas the Commission would not lower the 25µg/m3 at that stage).

• The report also calls for more flexibility over allowing (five-years according to the Commission) extensions to the deadline in areas or cities which fail to meet the criteria. According to the MEPs, the Member States in question would be able have a derogation of 4 year period possibly extendible for a further 2 years, for PM2.5 and PM10 only, provided they submit a plan showing why they cannot meet the ceilings despite measures taken nationally and locally and how they plan to resolve the problem in future.

• The House also wants greater flexibility over the goal of reducing the population's exposure to this type of pollution by 20% by 2020, by setting differing percentage reductions depending on the recorded concentration levels.

MEPs also demand the adding of new articles mentioning the measures to be taken by the Member States to reduce atmospheric pollution notably the inclusion of norms for incinerators, heavy goods vehicles (Euro VI norms), the installation of domestic heating systems and measures to be co-ordinated at the European level to encourage ship-owners to reduce their pollution.

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