A consultation on EU air quality policy

This consultation, launched by the Commission, happens when air pollution is one of the main environmental worries facing EU citizens. Indeed, almost 50% of them live in areas where EU air quality objectives are still not met.

As part of a comprehensive review of Europe’s air policies intended to set new long-term objectives beyond 2020, the European Commission is launching a public consultation on its current policy in this area. For the next twelve weeks, views are being sought on the strengths and weaknesses of the existing legislative framework and progress on its implementation. This web-based consultation is part of a broader process of reflection that will feed into a review due no later than 2013.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “Looking back at Europe’s record in improving air quality, we have much to be proud of. But with 500 000 premature deaths associated with high air pollution from particulate matter, there is clearly much work still to be done. We need to start a discussion on the next generation of air quality objectives straight away.”

The public consultation invites all interested parties to share their views on the best way to improve the EU’s air quality legislation. It is divided into two parts – a short questionnaire for the general public and a longer section for experts and practitioners from national administrations, regional or local authorities, researchers, businesses, stakeholders, health, environmental and other groups involved in the implementation of EU air quality legislation.

Next Steps

This is the start of a broad consultation process as announced by the Commission in January 2011 (see MEMO/11/31). The Commission will continue its preparatory work and carry out another round of public consultations before presenting ideas on the future of EU air policy by 2013 at the latest.


EU air policy has a long history and is one of the success stories of environmental policy. According to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) State of the Environment Report emissions from all relevant air pollutants have decreased over the past 20 years. Emissions from certain pollutants have decreased significantly, with lead emissions for example being reduced by approximately 90%. EU legislation on industrial emissions, vehicle emissions and fuel quality has played a major part in this.

But EU air quality is still some way short of the objectives of the 6th Environmental Action Programme, where the EU agreed “to achieve levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on and risks to human health and the environment.”

In 2008, 45% of the EU’s population still lived in zones exceeding the particulate matter (PM10) limit values, 49% in zones exceeding the annual NO2 limit value, and 46% in zones exceeding the O3 health target value. In addition, 20-30% of urban population are exposed to a range of exceedances.

The latest Eurobarometer on “Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment” (365) reveals that 36% of citizens list air pollution as one of their five main environmental concerns, while 40% mention pollution in towns and cities as the environmental issue that first comes to mind.

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