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EU demands answers from Belgium over air quality
The European Commission has gone a step further in its infringement proceedings against Belgium over European air quality regulations.
The country continues to fail to meet its obligations under European legislation supposed to ensure clean air for citizens, the Commission said.
The EU executive sent a reasoned opinion to Belgium, as well as to the Czech Republic and Poland. Governments have two months to respond and "take the necessary steps" to stop the infringement, failing which the Commission can turn to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
A 2008 directive establishes the obligation for states to monitor various parameters of outdoor air quality, through samples and measurements.
The text also sets thresholds not to be exceeded with regard to the concentration in the air of several pollutants, including fine particles and nitrogen dioxide.
The limit values applicable to the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have been exceeded in the Brussels air-quality zone since 2010, and in Antwerp since 2015.
Belgium requested a postponement of five years of the date on which the limits for nitrogen dioxide would become legally binding. The additional delay had been accepted by Europe for Antwerp, but not for Brussels.
Additionally the question of how the concentration of nitrogen dioxide was measured in Brussels has long been the subject of a dispute between environmentalists and environmental NGOs on the one hand, and regional authorities on the other.
Ecolo as well as the NGO Client Earth had carried out their own measurements across the capital, observing worrying concentrations of nitrogen dioxide.
At the same time, they criticised the fact that the region did not transmit to Europe the poor results of a measurement station installed at Arts-Loi, Brussels, arguing that they are not valid because they come from samples too close to the traffic. At the same time, measurement stations placed in precisely very dense traffic areas had been closed.
In 2018, the then Brussels environment minister Céline Fremault indicated that the region now had more arguments to put forward, with among others the entry into force of the Low Emission Zone and the objective of phasing out diesel and petrol, as well as the desire to extend the network of measures by one station per year beginning in 2019.