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26 April 2024

EFA welcomes the European Parliament agreement revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive and particularly, the establishment of EU Air Quality Indices – clear and timely indicators on health risks including information for vulnerable groups. However, the agreement falls short on the EU’s ambition to restrict the pollutant thresholds.

AQ vote 1

On April 24, the last Plenary sitting before the EU elections, the European Parliament adopted the trilogue agreement for a revised EU Air Quality Directive. The vote is a milestone following the end of the trilogue negotiations in February, between the European Parliament and the Council.  

The vote results showed a large majority of MEPs supporting the provisional agreement, as 381 of them voted in favour, 225 against and 17 abstentions. Supporting MEPs came from across the political spectrum. 

All along the revision process, EFA has worked independently and in close collaboration with other EU-wide health organisations, such as the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the European Respiratory Society (ERS), advocating for an ambitious revision of the directives that reflects latest scientific evidence and ensures healthy air in Europe.

Will the air be cleaner for patients? 

While far from being perfect, the political agreement between the EP and the Council signals a step towards improved publich health. However, the agreed text does not foresee the full alignment of pollutant limits with the WHO Air Quality Guidelines of 2021, which has been a key ask by EFA and all health and environmental groups. In addition, the EU does not offer a pathway for full alignment with the guidelines and lacks a clear timeline, leaving room for limited implementation. 

Air Quality Indices – a new EU standard

Positively, the Directive introduced a regular review mechanism and improved public information through the establishment of national Air Quality Indices (AQIs). AQIs are expected to provide real-time messaging and warnings that are health-related and targeted towards vulnerable groups. Notably, the AQIs will be structured based on a harmonised standard across the EU. 

Compensation for health damages -  but up to Member States

A novelty, the Directive foresees access to justice and compensation for health damages due to air pollution, both designed to make the legislative framework more citizen friendly. However, a lot depends on how these provisions will unfold in practice, as implementation of the directive allows discretion by the Member States.   

Read more on the perspective of allergy and respiratory community

EFA summarised some of the key points from the perspective of the allergy and respiratory community in a recent article. We also welcomed the adoption of the EP Plenary in a joint letter from the newly founded EU Healthy Air Coalition that EFA has joined. 

What’s next? 

There is one final step before the trilogue agreement officially becomes an EU law: the adoption by the European Council, taking place in the next meeting of EU environment ministers in June. Once this is also done, Member States will have two years to take the necessary measures to adapt to the revised legislation.

It is now time for EU governments to prioritise clean air for better health by adapting the AAQD deal ahead of the EU Elections 2024.