Good morning everyone.
The Commission has taken a number of infringement decisions today, and as you can see, quite some of them come under my portfolio – environment.
Amongst the tasks, which President JUNCKER gave me for my mandate, was to improve the implementation of our environmental legislation.
Infringement procedures are an essential part of this, in the cases where Member States - despite the dialogue we have with them and the support we give - do not implement and enforce our commonly agreed rules.
This Commission does not take decisions lightly. We weigh the options carefully, and we are never happy to go to court.
But sometimes that's what it takes.
During the course of my mandate we have been very vigilant on nature protection. And today, we're asking many Member States to step up their efforts.
The Natura 2000 network of protected areas is on the frontline in our fight to protect biodiversity. But there are still important gaps in the network itself and in the way the protected areas are managed. And this is why we have decided today to refer Greece to the Court, but also took legal steps against a number of other Member States. And, we also take legal steps against some Member States for not properly protecting a series of specific protected species and their habitats.
We're also fighting to protect Europe's waters.
That is why we have referred Sweden to the Court today. Urban waste water must be of a standard that poses no threat upon reintroducing it into the environment.
And we are sending a warning to Germany that further measures are necessary to implement a Court ruling on protecting our waters from Nitrate pollution.
But one thing in particular stands out.
Throughout my mandate, I have always been very clear about the importance of human health.
In this area, there is no room for compromise.
And it's especially true of air pollution. In 2018, we set out a new approach to the problem, stepping up engagements with Member States to protect citizens' health, in the Communication called 'A Europe that protects: Clean air for all'.
One year later, the evidence of harm from air pollution continues to grow.
There is no more room for excuses. We need to see decisive action.
Today, for example, we are calling Bulgaria and Spain before the EU Court of Justice for problems with air pollution.
In the case of Bulgaria, the referral is for sulphur dioxide (SO2). The daily and the hourly limits are persistently being exceeded in the South-East zone, limits that should have been observed since accession in 2007.
For Spain, the referral is for a persistent breach of EU rules on nitrogen dioxide, which have been legally binding since 2010. The problem areas are Madrid, Barcelona, and Vallés-Baix Llobregat [BAL-ES BAISH LYO- BRE-GA].
We are also accelerating infringement procedures for other Member States. For the air quality monitoring network in Romania, for particulate matter in Poland, and for the state of air legislation in Croatia.
We are taking these steps because air pollution is still the biggest environmental health problem in the EU, responsible for some 400 000 premature deaths every year.
It also causes a range of health problems, including asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.
And it's a major economic burden, with direct costs over EUR 20 billion every year.
These problems need to be solved, and they can be solved when the political will is there.
The Commission is helping wherever it can, facilitating dialogue and funding programmes that tackle air pollution.
But there are still places that need to take stronger action, as soon as possible.
Infringement cases, and an appearance in court, can bring that point home.
EU legislation is not bureaucratic, it's not abstract, and it's not about what happens in Brussels.
It's about solving real problems, and improving people's lives wherever they live. That's why we are here today.
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