EU citizens could sue countries over polluted air harmful to health, says top court adviser

The Eiffel Tower is shrouded in a haze of small particles hanging over the horizon in Paris, France, December 9, 2016, as the City of Light saw its worst air pollution in a decade. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

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BRUSSELS, May 5 (Reuters) – Citizens of European Union countries could sue their governments for financial compensation if illegal levels of air pollution harm their health, a councilor from the city said on Thursday. European Supreme Court.

The adviser’s opinion follows a series of decisions by the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU in recent years, with around ten EU countries, including France, Poland, Italy and the Romania, found guilty of illegal air pollution.

“Advocate General Juliane Kokott considers that a violation of the limit values ​​for the protection of air quality under EU law may give rise to the right to compensation from the State”, indicated the Court in a press release.

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Kokott noted that it is often the poorest communities who live and work in heavily polluted areas and are particularly in need of judicial protection.

She said, however, that anyone seeking compensation would have to prove that the damage to their health was directly caused by the air pollution. A government can also avoid liability if it could prove that pollution limits would still have been exceeded if it had a sufficient air quality plan in place, Kokott said.

The opinions of EU courts are not binding, but the court generally agrees with them in the decision that follows in the coming months.

The notice concerns a case brought by a resident of Paris seeking 21 million euros in compensation from the French government, on the grounds that air pollution damaged his health and that the government failed to ensure compliance EU boundaries.

A Versailles court hearing the Paris dispute asked the EU court to clarify whether individuals could claim such compensation.

Paris breached EU legal limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution between 2010 and 2019, according to previous EU court rulings. It did the same in 2020, according to the French Council of State.

In a bid to reduce premature deaths associated with polluted air, the EU will this year propose an update to its pollution limits to better align them with stricter World Health Organization rules.

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Reporting by Kate Abnett, editing by Marine Strauss and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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