The mayors of Brussels and Paris have called for an annual car-free day for all of Europe, citing initiatives in their cities that have driven down pollution. But a recent damning report by the EU Court of Auditors revealed there is plenty of work left to do.
Brussels’ streets were largely free of cars on Sunday (16 September) as part of a now annual bid to ease air pollution and get inhabitants of the Belgian capital out and about by bike, foot or public transport.
Getting cars off the roads could not have come sooner for Brussels, as in the first week of September the home of the EU institutions registered some of the worst air pollution levels in all of Europe.
Brussels transport minister Pascal Smet insisted that the impact was immediate, tweeting official data comparing air quality at Arts-Loi metro station with weekdays and a typical Sunday. At 16:00 it showed that pollution levels were 30% lower than usual.
— Pascal Smet (@SmetPascal) September 16, 2018
Although billed as “car-free”, there were still numerous vehicles allowed on the streets, including buses, taxis, emergency services and vehicles with diplomatic plates. All-in-all over 17,000 waivers were granted.
Ahead of Sunday’s festivities, which were marked with free public transport, street markets and thousands of cyclists, the mayors of Brussels and Paris both called for a pan-European car-free day.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close and Parisian counterpart Anne Hidalgo, whose city also held its own celebrations, said in a joint statement on Saturday (15 September) that the “urgency of climate issues and the health impact of pollution” make car-free days necessary.
EU auditors slam Commission on air pollution
Indeed, air pollution is a worsening problem and a new report by the EU’s Court of Auditors published last Tuesday (11 September) found that the institutions are not doing enough to fight a problem that causes an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year.
Despite launching at-times successful legal action against countries that “frequently” break air quality laws, the Auditors criticised the European Commission for letting member states off the hook and to continue to flaunt the rules.
In 2016, only four of the bloc’s 28 members were in line with the law and legal cases have already been won against Bulgaria and Poland, while six others are due in front of the European Court of Justice soon.