The European Commission has decided today to refer Bulgaria to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to ensure full compliance with the Court judgement of 5 April 2017 which found that Bulgaria had breached its obligations under the EU's ambient air quality legislation (Directive 2008/50/EC). In particular, Bulgaria systematically and continuously failed to comply with the limit values for particulate matter (PM10) and to adopt appropriate measures to keep the period of exceedance as short as possible.
As this is a referral to Court for non-compliance with a previous Court judgment, it may result in financial penalties both for the time elapsed after the first judgement as for the time required after the second judgment until achieving full compliance.
In order to comply with the judgment, Bulgaria is expected to adopt and implement a series of measures. Data provided by Bulgaria, covering the years 2015 to 2019, confirms that the systemic and continuous breach established by the Court persists. More than three years after the judgement, Bulgaria has not yet managed to ensure that all its air quality zones and agglomerations comply with the limit values set in the Directive.
The progress to date is thus not satisfactory as Bulgaria has not really started to implement measures on the ground to ensure compliance with the limit values. Bulgaria reported that most of the measures are at a preparatory stage or to be implemented with effect as late as 2024.
Bulgaria witnesses some of the most severe exceedances in the EU of both annual and daily limit values for PM10, with the ensuing risks for its population's health. The exceedances of the daily limit values are particularly high, with as many as 90 days per year above the daily limits, i.e. more than 2.5 times more than permitted under the Directive.
The European Green Deal, aiming to steer the EU towards a Zero Pollution ambition, puts emphasis on cutting air pollution, which is among the key factors affecting human health. Full implementation of the air quality standards enshrined in EU legislation is key to effectively protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.
Based on the principle of subsidiarity, EU legislation on ambient air quality leaves Member States the choice of instruments to comply with the limit values set by the EU legislation. Despite the obligation on Member States to ensure good air quality for their citizens, air pollution remains a problem in many places, with the situation being particularly serious in urban areas.
Air pollution remains the number one environmental health problem in the EU. According to estimates of the European Environment Agency, around 400,000 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution each year in the EU. This type of pollution is the cause of serious illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer. Particulate matter (PM10) is a mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. Particulate matter is mainly present in emissions from industry, traffic and home heating, but is also produced by emissions from agriculture.