On 21 September 2005, the European Commission introduced a proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. On 11 December 2007, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers achieved an agreement on the new EU Directive. The Council adopted its Common Position on 25 June 2007 (AAQ-001).
The Commission proposal aimed at profoundly revising five individual elements of the existing acquis and at merging these elements in one single Directive. This would simplify and streamline the existing stipulations, i.e. on the issue of control and reports. The proposal would also update the stipulations in the light of new scientific developments and would take care of a better control of the exposure of the population.
The Directive Ambient Air Quality is a keystone in the thematic strategy in the campaign against air pollution in Europe. For the first time, restrictions were established for the finest particulate matter (PM2,5; particle size < 2.5?m), which is more dangerous than particulate matter (PM10) for the human health.
The Directive provides a target value for the finest particulate matter of 25 ?g/m3 in 2010. This concentration will be the limit value in 2015. As from 2020, an intensified limit value will be applied for PM2,5: 20 ?g/m3. The European Commission will evaluate this value in 2013 and will subsequently either fix this value or propose another one. In both cases, Member States are obliged to reduce the PM2,5 concentration by 15 to 20% by 2020 compared to the average concentration in the period 2008 – 2010 in urban areas. Moreover, Member States have to ensure that the exposure level is below 20 ?g/m3 in urban areas by 2015 (“exposure concentration obligation??). This “exposure concentration obligation?? will also be evaluated in 2013.
The existing rules with respect to rougher particulate matter (PM10) are still valid, i.e a threshold value of 40 ?g/m3 for the annual average concentration. For the time being, no further reduction is anticipated. The daily average concentration may not exceed 50 ?g/m3 more than 35 times a year.
In 2009, the European Commission allowed several Member States (on their request) to temporarily exceed the air quality norms (derogation). On the other hand, an infringement procedure was opened against some Member States because they exceeded the air quality norms. Since early 2011, the revision of the Thematic Strategy air quality and the Directive of Air Quality combined with the Directive National Emission Ceilings is being prepared. The Commission aims at:
- Achieving the levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on and risks to human health and environment;
- Ensuring that EU air quality policy is updated in line with the best available knowledge in the field;
- Identifying regulatory and non-regulatory options that could remedy defective implementation of existing policy.
The European Commission believes that future air quality policy should be conducted at every level: European, national, regional and local. Cross-border pollution at EU level will be tackled in the context of the Directive on National Emissions Ceilings (see also chapter 36), by tackling pollution at its source, especially when this relates to transport. By mid-2012, the consultation process with all stakeholders was underway.
Some relevant documents:
AAQ-001: Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (European Parliament and the Council)