EU Commissioner ‘frustrated’ over air quality proposals

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik critical of EU politicians after debate on Clean Air package last week

The EU Commissioner for the Environment said he is “frustrated” by willingness of Member States to take up his Clean Air policy package after a debate on the proposals last week (June 12).

Mr Potočnik was speaking at a public lecture at University College London yesterday (June 16) under the heading ‘New Environmentalism and the Circular Economy’.

Janez Potočnik was speaking at UCL yesterday (June 16 2014)

Janez Potočnik was speaking at UCL yesterday (June 16 2014)

Asked for his thoughts on the debate surrounding the air quality proposals at the EU Environment Council the previous week, Mr Potočnik cited a lack of enthusiasm as hampering progress on the Clean Air Package, which was first unveiled in December 2013 (see story).

The Commissioner — who will leave his post at the end of his current term this September — said in response: “The minimum I can say after that is frustration.”

He added: “Each and every country practically says that ‘these policies are not for me’. Even though these policies are the most cost effective and beneficial to people and the economy. What we are proposing is ‘let’s cut these things and there will be much less people ill’.

Mr Potočnik explained that the economy and the environment were “two sides of the same coin”, and that Member States needed to realise that public health problems from air quality impacted on their economies.

He said: “I am simply frustrated with too much short term logic. Some of the enthusiasm was just not there. And I expressed myself in much the same terms with the ministers.”

With the UK government currently facing infraction proceedings from the EU over its failure to meet standards for nitrogen dioxide, Mr Potočnik also commented on the whether taking Member States to court over was the best way to improve air quality.

While he said that he would prefer to not take countries to court, he said that Member States had agreed to the standards so should stick to them.

He said: “According to the treaty we have to do it. We don’t have the option to not do it. Our motto is to be ‘strictly helpful and helpfully strict’.”

The Commissioner added that it was important to tackle emissions from farming and agriculture: “We have to address methane for air quality and also for questions of climate change.”


The minister for air quality at Defra, Dan Rogerson MP, had been due to introduce Mr Potočnik at the event, but was forced to attend a parliamentary debate on the Consumer Rights Bill instead.

Mr Rogerson was replaced by Defra’s head of sustainable business, Jonathan Tillson, who would not be drawn on infraction proceedings his department faces on air quality from the Commission.

Mr Tillson joked: “As tempting as it is to talk about infractions, I am going to give that a miss.”


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