France’s statues dressed in pollution masks as EU legal decision looms

France is among nine member states that are on the cusp of being hit with legal action due to high air pollution levels. [Réseau Action Climat]

Statues in a number of French cities were adorned with masks on Saturday (31 March) to highlight what activists say is a failure to tackle smog and air pollution. The European Commission will reveal next month if France is among those countries that will face legal action.

In a joint statement, environmental and anti-air pollution groups including France Nature Environment, ANV-COP 21, the Federation of Bicycle Users and Greenpeace, called for a clean air transport policy.

Last year, the EU ordered several member states including France, Britain and Germany to tighten controls on smog-causing car pollution or risk being sent to the top European court.

The Commission has said that “persistently high” levels of nitrogen dioxide caused 70,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013, three times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents in the same year.

EU court rules against Poland’s air pollution

The Court of Justice ruled on Thursday (22 February) that Poland has infringed air quality laws, urging Warsaw to comply “without delay” or face fines after finding that the country has regularly exceeded fine particle limits for years.

In an ongoing crusade against pollution, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said in late January that the “time for delaying” was over after meeting with ministers from nine countries that are currently breaching air quality laws, including France.

The group of countries, which also included Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was granted until mid-February to try and convince the Commission not to refer their cases up to the European Court of Justice.

Last week, during an annual exchange of views with members of the European Parliament, Vella revealed that some of the nine countries would be hit with legal action during the EU executive’s next round of infringement proceedings at the end of April.

Whether France will be condemned or not remains to be seen but Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently indicated the issue of air pollution is being taken seriously, by announcing plans for a feasibility study into free public transport.

“To improve public transport we should not only make it more extensive, more regular and more comfortable, we must also rethink the fares system,” she said in a statement.

But the plan has already been criticised by the transport authority, whose head said the French taxpayer would likely have to foot the bill if tickets were free.

Brussels air pollution to trigger free public transport

Brussels’ regional government has approved emergency rules that will allow commuters to use public transport free of charge during periods of high air pollution, Belgian media reported on Friday (23 February).

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