Though 23 of the 28 EU member countries exceeded air quality norms, those who top the list, were summoned for the same, the European Commission said.
In a statement issued today (17 May), the EC said that it is referring France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to respect agreed air quality limit values and for "failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible".
Bas Eickhout of the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament said that "it is shameful that some of Europe's wealthiest countries are dragging their heels on protecting their citizens' health". While being most acute in London, illegal levels of air pollution is a problem across the UK.
Environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said: "The member states referred to the court today have received sufficient "last chances" over the last decade to improve the situation". "We have said that this commission is one that protects".
France, Germany, and Britain will be taken to court over their failure to respect limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), while Hungary, Italy, and Romania failed to meet required standards on the level of particulate matter.
The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, previously promised that governance of the environment would not be diluted when the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
But she added that the process behind legal action should be "far more transparent" to allow citizens to know why some countries are taken to court and others not. "That is why we are outlining the type of practical help that the Commission can provide to national authorities in their efforts to promote cleaner air for European cities and towns", said Vella.
"We will shortly build on our £3.5 billion plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy setting out a wide range of actions to reduce pollution from all sources".
Reacting to the announcement, ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: "We are glad that, at last, the Commission is taking serious steps to fight air pollution before the Court of Justice".
Among them, Neil Parish, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons" Efra Committee, criticised the government for "failing to come up with a coherent plan' for addressing air pollution. "Manufacturers that keep disregarding the law have to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing".
"Indeed this announcement from the European Commission is an extremely powerful reminder of just how much we'd miss the EU enforcement powers when it comes to environmental protection if Brexit happens".