Between 2010 and 2016, Germany systematically and persistently exceeded the limit values for nitrogen dioxide, the Court of Justice of the European Union said.
The Court of Justice ruled on June 3 that Germany had infringed the Air Quality directive’s limit value of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 26 of the 89 zones and agglomerations assessed. The decision follows a lawsuit filed by the European Commission in 2018. Berlin, Hamburg or Munich like nine of the ten biggest cities, constantly exceeded the average annual limit of 40 μg/m3 of nitrogen dioxide between 2010 and 2016.
Nitrogen dioxide is a chemical compound that can be used in fertilizers but is considered as an air pollutant. Most the of the nitrogen dioxide pollution comes from combustion engines of diesel motor vehicles or coal power plant. The Dieselgate, which involved the car manufacturer Volkswagen, was related to a fraud about the above-standard levels of nitrogen dioxide emitted by the cars.
Germany argued that the exceedance of limit values of NO2 was attributable to the European Commission’s omissions. For Germany, the Commission didn’t enact an effective legislation that would have limited nitrogen dioxide emissions by diesel vehicles, pointing out the European emission standards Euro-5 implemented in 2009 for light passenger and commercial vehicles.
Insufficient legislation not a reason for Germany to pollute
The Court rejected the argument as it was not a justification for not respecting the Air Quality directive. It noted that Germany had "not adopted appropriate measures in good time" to limit values of nitrogen dioxide emissions.
According to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, the 2017-2020 Clean Air Immediate Program with a budget of 1.5 billion euros already provided progress. The efforts included the digitalization of transport system, investment in electric vehicles or the modernization of diesel public transportation. As per the Ministry’s figures, from 90 cities that went above the limit in 2017, only 57 exceeded in 2018.
Germany needs to comply with the Court’s judgement without delay to fulfil obligations but there are no immediate sanctions.