The Commission strikes again

Yesterday (27 January), the European Commission sent a "reasoned opinion", the second stage of the infringement procedure, requesting the UK “to put an end to discriminatory legislation (The Race Relations Act) allowing for differential pay of non-UK seafarers linked directly and indirectly to their nationality.”


According to the Commission, the UK has infringed EU law on free movement of workers, particularly the obligation “to treat EU migrant workers in the same way as national workers in employment-related aspects such as pay.” Consequently, the UK has two months to amend its legislation, complying with the Commission demands, otherwise the Commission may refer the issue to the ECJ.

The Commission also launched infringement procedures against 7 Member States including the UK, over agreements with Russia on Siberian overflights. The Commission has stressed “Bi-lateral air service agreements between an individual Member State and a non-EU country have to include an "EU designation clause" recognising that the terms apply equally to all EU airlines, and not just the airlines of that Member State.” However, the Commission pointed out that Russia “fails to recognise that all EU carriers must be treated equally, and that the terms of any bi-lateral agreement must include an "EU designation" clause and apply to all.

The UK has two months to “satisfactorily” reply to the letter of formal notice otherwise the Commission may sent a reasoned opinion requesting the UK to amend the bi-lateral air service agreement with Russia.

The Commission also requested the UK, in the form of “reasoned opinion”, to communicate national implementing measures as required by the Consumer Credit Directive 2008/48/EC. Member States were required to transpose the Directive into national law by before 11 June 2010.

According to the Commission the UK has failed to inform the Commission of all the measures implementing the abovementioned directive. Hence, the UK has two months to comply with the “reasoned opinion” and to notify to the Commission the measures it has taken to implement the Directive, failing this, the Commission may lodge cases against the UK with the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ may fine the UK if it fails to bring national legislation into line with EU legislation.

In the meantime, the BBC reports that “The UK government has just weeks to convince EU officials that it will meet European clean air standards in London, if it is to avoid a court case.”

The 1996 Air Quality Framework Directive has set limit values for various pollutants in ambient air, including for PM10 which should have been met since 2005. The new Council Directive on ambient air quality which entered into force in June 2008 provides for the possibility of limited time extensions for compliance for PM10 which can run until 10 June 2011.

Member States are, therefore, allowed to request limited extra time to meet the PM10 standard but under certain conditions. Hence, time extensions may only be granted for zones that satisfy the conditions laid down in the directive. The Member States when submit time extension notification to the Commission must demonstrate that all appropriate measures have been taken at national, regional and local level to meet the required limit values in 2005 and that these could not be achieved because of external factors such as site-specific dispersion characteristics, adverse climatic conditions or transboundary contributions.

Member States are also required to show, through the establishment of an air quality plan for each zone, how compliance with the limit values will be achieved by June 2011 and put forward appropriate measures so that the "exceedences period" can be kept as short as possible.

If there are no objections, within nine months of receipt of an official and complete notification, the Commission will issue a decision confirming the details where extra time to meet the limit value has been agreed. If the Commission raises any objections a Member State may be required to adjust or provide new air quality plan but a shorter extension period could be granted.

In January 2009, the Commission has started infringement proceedings, sending first warning letters to 10 Member States, including the UK, that have not yet achieved compliance with the PM10 limit values and have failed to submit notifications requesting extra time to meet the standards in all air quality zones where the PM10 limit values are being exceeded.

In the meantime, the UK submitted to the Commission the application for an extension. The UK notification covered 8 zones: Greater London Urban Area, West Midlands Urban Area, West Yorkshire Urban Area, Glasgow Urban Area, Brighton/Worthing/Littlehampton, Swansea Urban Area, Eastern England zone and Yorkshire and Humberside zone. The last Government was convinced that the limit values in those zones will be met by 2011.

According to the Commission the exemption is not justified as seven out of the eight zones already complied with the limit values. However, for the Greater London Urban Area, the UK had not shown that compliance with the daily PM10 limit value would be achieved by 2011.

The UK has sent another request for extra time for Greater London, which the Commission is still assessing. Nevertheless, on the 3 June, the Commission has addressed a "Reasoned Opinion” to the UK for breaching EU air quality standards.

This is a “final warning” for the UK to comply with EU air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles, the PM10. The Commission pointed out that Greater London Urban Area and Gibraltar, have exceeded the limits for PM10. Then, if the UK fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice which may impose financial penalties.

According to the BBC “The European Commission is assessing UK data for London and will decide in a month's time whether to give the UK an extension until mid-June to comply.”

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