Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) An adviser to the EU’s top court issued an opinion on Thursday stating that citizens in Union member states could be able to sue their governments for damages should they suffer health problems as a consequence of being exposed to illegal levels of air pollution.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued her opinion following a series of rulings by the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ) which found a number of EU countries guilty of allowing illegal air pollution in their territories. The list of countries found culpable includes France, Poland, Italy and Romania, among others.
“An infringement of the limit values for the protection of air quality under EU law may give rise to entitlement to compensation from the State,” Kokott wrote in her opinion. While not legally binding, advocate generals’ opinions are regularly used as a basis for a later ECJ ruling.
Kokott also stressed that the highly polluted areas are most often homes to poorer communities, which are in particular need of judicial protection. Any lawsuit with damage claims in such cases would have to include evidence that their health was harmed directly by air pollution. The opinion also noted that governments could potentially evade liability if they could prove that pollution limits would have been breached even if sufficient air quality plan were put in place.
Kokott’s opinion was brought in relation to a case brought by a Paris resident, who is seeking compensation of 21 million euro from the French government. The plaintiff claims that he has suffered damage to his health due to air pollution, and that his government had failed to ensure its compliance with EU limits.
Paris was previously found to have breached the bloc’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution between 2010 and 2020, and a court in Versailles, presiding over the health damage dispute, asked the EU court for clarification whether individuals could be eligible to claim such compensation.