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On Wednesday 13 September the European Parliament plenary held a key vote on the revision EU Air Quality rules. Despite the delicate balances within the political groups of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Renew Europe (RE), the plenary largely accepted the proposals tabled by rapporteur MEP Javi López (S&D – Spain). The adoption of the EP report with 363 MEPs in favour, 226 against and 46 abstentions marks a huge milestone on the way to a new policy framework in the EU. 

In addition, the adopted text represents the starting point of the Parliament, ahead of the upcoming negotiations with the Member States, set to start once the Council has also adopted its general approach.

What is there for respiratory patients? 

Widely seen as one that improves air quality and prioritises human health, the EP position contains at least three aspects that are greatly important for patients living with chronic respiratory diseases such as allergy, asthma and COPD:

  • Full alignment with the WHO Air Quality Guidelines: the EP strongly calls to follow latest science through full alignment with WHO recommendations. This brings stricter limits for major air pollutants, even though on a looser timeline (to be achieved by 2035, instead of 2030 that EFA and other health organisations advocated for)
  • Better information on air quality, with clear requirements for national air quality indices to disseminate real-time information on air quality, including health-related advise tailored to vulnerable groups. Moreover, the report sets information thresholds for the public for all major pollutants
  • More citizen-friendly and greater accountability: the report upheld provisions on access to justice and compensation for health damages due to air pollution, keeping the door open to citizen action in cases of non-compliance with the EU legal provisions

Moreover, the EP report extends the monitoring of pollutants to ultrafine particles (UFP), black carbon, mercury and ammonia (NH3), at least for the highly polluted areas.

The culmination of a long advocacy road – but far from the end 

The result brought broad satisfaction to civil society organisations in the area of public health and environment, EFA among others, who have since long been advocating for cleaner and healthier air in Europe. 

The most recent example was a letter led by Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), with co-signatories including the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), and the Mutualités Libres.

In view of the Plenary vote, the letter stressed the need to ensure a grand majority for a legal framework that protects human health, highlighting the huge burden caused by air pollution on health, including respiratory diseases, cancer and other chronic conditions. 

In particular, we called MEPs to:

  1. Demonstrate political will by increasing the level of ambition, fully aligning the EU’s air quality standards with the WHO recommendations and the latest science by 2030 at the latest, and supporting legally binding limit values, as the most effective type of standard
  2. Protect vulnerable groups to protect everyone, by adding a comprehensive definition of vulnerable and susceptible groups, and strengthening public information, including messaging targeted to the most vulnerable
  3. Ensure the most health-protective enabling framework, improving the density and representativity of monitoring stations and ensuring fast compliance at the national level

With the EP position finalised and adopted, EFA’s attention now turns to the Council. Our hope is that Member States will arrive soon at an equally ambitious general approach, prioritising health and science.

The ensuing negotiations between the EP and the Council will be critical in shaping the future air quality legislative framework in the EU, but first and foremost in ensuring that improved air quality becomes the norm and significantly reduces the health burden from air pollution.

You can access the full letter here.