Answer given by Mr Dimas on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the fact that a number of cities in the EU, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, are establishing or are considering in establishing environmental zones. These zones are introduced as a measure by which Member States aim to comply with the limit values for certain traffic related pollutants, such as fine particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The limit values for PM10 are mandatory since 2005 and they will become so for NO2 from 2010 as provided for in Council Directive 1999/30/EC(1).
In urban areas, traffic is the main source of emissions of PM10 and NO2. Measures, aimed at reducing the concentrations of those pollutants in such areas, will therefore necessarily address traffic. The introduction of environmental zones, together with traffic restrictions or bans for vehicles belonging to certain emission categories to enter such zones, is therefore a legitimate and often very cost-effective measure for the purpose of complying with Community air quality legislation.
Although those measures could be considered as technical specifications within the meaning of Directive 98/34/EC(2), it is normally not considered necessary to notify them pursuant to that directive, because of the limited geographical scope. However, the measures must still be compatible with the rules on free movement of goods laid down in Article 28 to 30 of the EC Treaty.
To the extent that such traffic restrictions or bans could be considered as having the effect of obstructing intra-Community trade, they may still be justified by requirements relating to the protection of the environment, provided that the measures are proportionate to the aim pursued. In view of the obligation to achieve air quality objectives under Community legislation, such measures could therefore be considered justified on environmental grounds.
As regards the proportionality of the measures in question, it can be established that environmental zones normally only cover the city centres, not including the surrounding transit roads. International traffic in transit not destined for the city centre is therefore not directly affected.
Local traffic bans or restrictions should not discriminate among vehicles registered in different Member States. The Commission therefore has stressed the need for Member States to ensure that the restrictions or bans are thoroughly communicated to the citizens and businesses concerned both in the Member State where the environmental zone is situated as well as in other Member States, and that the means to fulfil the conditions for access to the zone or for exemptions can be easily obtained by drivers of foreign vehicles.
Even though the existence of differing conditions for operating environmental zones does not necessarily infringe Community law on the free movement of goods, it is clear that it could simplify matters for national authorities and citizens if similar conditions were met across the Union. Therefore, the Commission has raised the issue of common rules for environmental zones in its Green Paper on Urban Mobility(3), with the view of possibly including it in the forthcoming Action Plan on Urban Mobility.