The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will start examining on Tuesday whether German courts should give prison sentences to politicians who don’t enforce bans on heavily-polluting cars.
The case stems from a long-standing dispute between environmental activists and the state government of Bavaria. The environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) is trying to force the Bavarian government to implement measures against air pollution in the state capital of Munich, where nitrogen dioxide levels exceed EU limits.
In 2014, a Munich court demanded a plan of action from the state government for a city ban for diesel cars. Environmental activists claim the Bavarian government is ignoring this ruling on purpose.
“We are asking that air pollution limits be respected,” DUH chairman Juergen Resch told AFP.
November last year, the Bavarian higher administration court referred the case to the ECJ because “high-ranking political figures” had “made it clear, both publicly and to the court, that they would not fulfil their responsibilities.”
The court added that a 4,000 euro fine had been “inefficient” and wanted the ECJ to advise on the legality of imposing a prison sentence to MPs who didn’t enforce the ban.
The ECJ’s decision though not legally binding could have serious implications for the Bavarian sister-party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats who oppose the bans.
Ugo Taddei, a clean air lawyer at NGO ClientEarth, said the ECJ hearing was important because it would “give a clear interpretation, a clear indication to German courts about what they need to do when they run into a situation like this.”
However, even if the ECJ rules that MPs can be given prison sentences, it will be up to Bavarian courts to decide what to do.