Last Thursday, the European Commission announced that it will be taking Greece and Bulgaria to the European Court of Justice for continuing to violate air pollution limits, despite multiple previous warnings. These cases are the most recent in a surge of similar legal action by the European Commission, with France, Italy, and Romania having each faced similar charges (Reuters, Courthouse News).

The Commission’s case against Greece focuses on the worsening air pollution in the northern city of Thessaloniki. According to the Commission, conditions in Thessaloniki have continually failed to meet the standards set by the EU’s 2005 ambient air quality laws, with the city exceeding its limits for 13 of the last 14 years (Ekathimerini). In Bulgaria, charges focus on the country’s failure to comply with a 2017 court ruling that ordered the state to bring all of its air quality zones into compliance with existing standards. After nearly three years, Bulgaria has made little progress, having implemented only a few of the court’s recommended measures (See News).

Air pollution is currently the largest health risk facing European citizens. A recent report from the EU Environment Agency found that airborne particulate matter contributed to approximately 379,000 deaths in the region in 2018 (Reuters). However, the report also notes that the EU has seen a significant improvement in air quality over the last decade, pointing out that in 2009, there were nearly 60,000 more deaths related to particulate matter than in 2018 (Politico).