© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Eiffel Tower is surrounded by a small-particle haze which hangs above the skyline in Paris, France, December 9, 2016 as the City of Light experienced the worst air pollution in a decade. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Citizens in European Union countries may be able to sue their governments for financial compensation if illegal levels of air pollution damage their health, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday.
The adviser’s opinion follows a string of rulings at the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU in recent years, with around 10 EU countries including France, Poland, Italy and Romania found guilty of illegal air pollution.
“Advocate General Juliane Kokott takes the view that 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,” the court said in a statement.
Kokott noted that it is often poorer communities that live and work in highly polluted areas and particularly need judicial protection.
She said, however, any individuals claiming compensation would need to prove that the damage to their health had been directly caused by the air pollution. A government may also avoid liability if it could prove the pollution limits would still have been breached if it had a sufficient air quality plan in place, Kokott said.
EU court opinions are non-binding, but the court typically agrees with them in the ruling that follows in the coming months.
The opinion concerns a case brought by a Paris resident seeking 21 million euros in compensation from the French government, on the grounds that air pollution damaged his health and the government failed to ensure compliance with EU limits.
A Versailles court hearing the Paris dispute asked the EU court to clarify whether individuals can claim such compensation.
Paris breached the EU’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution between 2010 and 2019, according to past EU court rulings. It did the same in 2020, according to the French Council of State.
In a bid to reduce premature deaths associated with dirty air, the EU will propose an upgrade of its pollution limits this year to better align them with stricter World Health Organization rules.