The European Commission has sent France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Sweden a second written warning for failing to comply with an EU law aimed at promoting the use of low sulphur petrol and diesel fuels. This law seeks to reduce the amount of sulphur in fuels to 10 mg/kg. It thereby contributes to reducing emissions from motor vehicles, which adversely affect human health and the environment. National laws should have been in place 30 June 2003. None of the Member States in question has met this deadline. The Commission has also sent first written warnings to the UK, Luxembourg and Belgium for infringing an EU law aimed at protecting the ozone layer, which shields human beings from harmful solar radiation. Reports submitted by the UK, Luxembourg and Belgium show that these three Member States are failing to meet certain detailed requirements aimed at curbing the use and emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.
Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "Citizens have the right to breathe clean air. At EU level, one of the measures we have to fight air pollution from cars is to reduce the sulphur content in petrol and diesel. In this way, we can make the most of modern car technology to reduce the harmfulness of exhaust fumes. Now Member States must fully live up to their commitments.
Technical specifications for fuel
EU legislation on fuel quality has been in place since 1998. In 2003, Member States agreed to strengthen the Fuel Standards Directive(1), which sets technical specifications on health and environmental grounds for fuels that are used by vehicles equipped with positive-ignition and compression-ignition engines. The 2003 amendment aims to promote a wider use of low-sulphur fuels.
The sulphur in petrol and diesel fuels reduces the effectiveness of catalytic exhaust gas after-treatment technologies. A reduction in the sulphur content of petrol and diesel fuels is likely to have the greatest potential for reducing exhaust emissions compared to other fuel parameters. The introduction of fuels with a maximum sulphur content of 10 mg/kg will improve fuel efficiency when used with new, emerging vehicle technologies. It will also lead to significant reductions in emissions of conventional air pollutants when used in existing vehicles.
Protecting the Ozone Layer
The Regulation on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer(2) aims to curb and eventually eliminate the use of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, which is the natural shield that protects the earth from harmful solar rays. The Regulation requires Member States to supply information on measures taken to promote the recovery, recycling, reclamation and destruction of controlled substances such as CFCs, HCFCs, halons and methyl bromide. Member States must also provide data on what has been done to make organisations and users responsible for carrying out these activities and to communicate details on the quantities of controlled substances that have been recovered, recycled, reclaimed or destroyed. They must show what steps have been taken to prevent and minimise the leakage of controlled substances, and to minimise the leakage of methyl bromide in soil treatments and post-harvest operations.
In addition, the Regulation obliges Member States to respect other reporting requirements, including providing information on annual leak monitoring (for equipment containing more than 3 kg of ozone-depleting substances). They must also submit information on minimum qualifications required by all personnel involved in these operations and communicate details on the quantities of controlled substances that have been recovered, recycled, reclaimed or destroyed.
The report sent by the UK identifies a number of cases where the EU Regulation is not correctly transposed into UK law. On qualification requirements for the personnel involved in operations using the substances covered by the Regulation, the UK law allows these to be set by trade associations. However, the Regulation obliges Member States to set such requirements themselves and not to leave it to voluntary bodies. In addition, it appears that Gibraltar has still not put in place the necessary infrastructure allowing the recycling, reclamation and destruction of ozone-depleting substances. Furthermore, the UK reported that it is the responsibility of the installation, the service contractor and the end user to take the precautionary measures to prevent leakage of some controlled substances. However, the Regulation obliges Member States to take such measures.
The case against Luxembourg concerns the fact that Luxembourg has not adopted binding measures to ensure the control of leaks from refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment.
Belgium appears not to have fully established minimum qualification requirements throughout its territory, in accordance with the Regulation. In addition, Belgium has still not put in place the necessary infrastructure to allow it to destroy, recycle and reclaim ozone-depleting substances throughout its territory.
Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, normally two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.
Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For current statistics on infringements in general, please visit the following web-site
(1) Directive 2003/17/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 March 2003 amending Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels
(2) Regulation 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer