Top EU court backs citizen rights in air pollution

The exhaust of a car is pictured in the street's traffic in Munich, December 21, 2007. REUTERS/Alexandra Beier

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A German environmental activist has won backing from the European Union’s top court to force local authorities in the home city of BMW to tackle car pollution.

Dieter Janecek, a Green Party member who lives near Munich’s central ring road, complained to the city authorities that the level of particles in the air linked to car exhaust had breached the legal limit on more than the 35 days allowed in a year.

But his request to the local authority to draw up an action plan with short-term measures such as traffic bans to curb pollution was turned down and he took his case to the European Court of Justice.

“Where there is a risk that the limit values for particulate matter may be exceeded, persons directly concerned can require the competent authorities to draw up an action plan,” the court said in a statement on Friday.

However EU states would be obliged only to take short-term measures capable of reducing to a minimum the risk that pollution thresholds may be exceeded and of ensuring a gradual return to a level below that threshold, the court said.

The German courts said there was no obligation under German law for an authority to draw up an anti-pollution action plan but the Luxembourg court said EU environmental rules did allow for such measures.

An ECJ ruling is applicable across the EU.

Reporting by Huw Jones, editing by David Brunnstrom and Ralph Boulton