EuroHealthNet expresses concern at the European Commission withdrawal of the anticipated EU ‘’Clean Air Package’’

EuroHealthNet is calling on the EC to reconsider withdrawal and postponement and argues that health and environmental sustainability should be key pillars of the 2015 EC work programme.

Today Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, presented the 2015 Commission work programme to the European Parliament. This includes a reference that the EU ‘’Clean Air Policy Package’’ would be modified to take into account the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets agreed by EU leaders at the October summit. “We are not compromising on the goals we want to attain, we are looking critically at the proposals so that we can have an agreement soon,” said Vice President Timmermans. The intent to withdraw this proposal had been indicated previously in a letter sent to the 28 commissioners from Mr Timmermans, the Commission vice-president. This has caused widespread criticism and opposition from eleven member states  and senior Members of the European Parliament.

The European Commission Staff Impact assessment found that air pollution is the number one environmental cause of death in the EU, responsible for over 400,000 premature mortalities in 2010. The total external costs of the health impacts are in the range €330-940bn (3-9% of EU GDP). Air pollution causes more than 100 million workdays lost per year across Europe, resulting in about €15 billion in productivity losses. It is estimated that €4 billion in healthcare costs are incurred every year for the treatment of air-pollution-related chronic bronchitis alone and total costs are substantially higher. The World Health Organization has also found links between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Article 168 of the EU Treaty requires that ’’ a high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.’’ EuroHealthNet contends that this Treaty requirement is not removable at the discretion of the College of Commissioners, when its own and other evidence shows there is need for stronger action and that it has important potential powers to act in ways that are not contrary to subsidiarity. Therefore the commitment of the EC to return in 2015 with improved proposals is essential and will not be forgotten.

Caroline Costongs, EuroHealthNet Managing Director said: “This delay is potentially harmful to the wellbeing of citizens, which is a specific EU objective. The decision to withdraw and propose at a later as yet unspecified date this piece of public health and environmental protection risks undermining the positive economic impact and health benefits that are recognised by the Commission`s own impacts assessment of air pollution.  Healthier and environmentally sustainable strategies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industrial policy lead to economic gains through reduced health care costs and climate gains – all aims within the EU 2020 strategy’’.

 “When air pollution contributes to around 7 million premature deaths globally, equal to 1 in 8 deaths worldwide - the EU could miss an opportunity to be a global leader on protecting public health. This is also an issue of social justice as people from most disadvantaged groups consistently suffer worse health from air pollution. The EU ‘’Clean Air Package’’ would reduce the number of premature deaths from exposure to air pollution by 58,000 per year by 2030. The evidence points to the need to act with strong measures and any amendments to the package should be in line with the available evidence. We call on the College of Commissioner, MEPs and all EU States to be vigilant in protecting public health and ensure EU policies on air pollution are not delayed or diluted by today`s decision. We will closely monitor this process, contribute to potential solutions and evaluate the new proposal.”

EuroHealthNet is part of the WHO Environment and Health Economics Network, which brings together international experts on environment, economics, policy making and communication. The network links evidence from epidemiology, health impact assessment and economics to identify the costs to society of air pollution-related health impacts. That will be highlighted in a forthcoming joint WHO/OECD publication entitled “Health Economics and Air Pollution”. EuroHealthNet was also part of an EU funded research project, SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050, that identified measures to improve quality of life and reduce environmental impacts of human behaviours through sustainable transport and resource use. 

For more information, contact EuroHealthNet Public Health Coordinator Cristina Chiotan or EuroHealthNet Health & Social Investment Senior Coordinator Leonardo Palumbo.