EU citizens may be able to sue their governments and seek financial compensation if illicit levels of air pollution harm their health, according to the EU’s top justice adviser.

The adviser’s opinion was issued following a series of judgments by the Luxembourg-based court in recent years in which ten members, including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, were found guilty of illegal air pollution.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), air pollution is responsible for 300,000 premature deaths in Europe each year.

“Violation of the limit values ​​for the protection of air quality under EU law may lead to the right to compensation from the state,” the court said in a statement.

Lawyer from the highest European court, Juliana Kokot, pointed out that often poorer communities live and work in areas with high pollution, and that they especially need judicial protection.

“Individuals seeking compensation for impaired health must prove that the direct cause of damage to their health is air pollution,” Kokot said.

The government, on the other hand, can avoid responsibility if it proves that the pollution limits would have been violated and that there was an adequate air quality plan.

“This legal confirmation that there is a way for those in power to be held accountable is a great step forward in the fight for clean and healthy air,” said Irmina Kotiuk, an environmental law expert from ClientEarth.

The opinion of the adviser is not binding but the Court usually agrees with him in the judgments that follow.

The new opinion refers to the case of a Parisian who asked the French government for compensation of 21 million euros, explaining that air pollution damaged his health and that the government failed to ensure respect for the EU limit.

The court in Versailles, which is working on that case, asked the EU Court to clarify whether individuals can ask for such compensation.

Between 2010 and 2020, Paris violated EU legal restrictions on nitrogen pollution.

In an effort to reduce the number of premature deaths due to polluted air, the EU will propose updating its pollution limits this year to better align with stricter World Health Organization rules.

E2 portal (Euractiv)

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