BRUSSELS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The European Commission will decide next month whether to take legal action against nine member states for breaching EU air pollution rules after they submitted plans to address the issue.
EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella had told ministers from the nine nations, including the bloc's biggest economies Germany, Britain and France, at a meeting last month that Brussels' patience was running thin.
The countries, which also include Italy, Spain, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were given 10 days to present "additional credible, timely and effective measures" to reduce pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, a Commission spokeswoman said.
"The Commission can confirm that all member states concerned have submitted additional information, which we will evaluate," the spokesman said. "We will come back to the matter in mid-March."
The Commission estimates that 400,000 people die every year as a result of airborne pollution, and targets introduced for 2005 and 2010 are still being exceeded in 23 of 28 EU countries.
Germany, in a letter to the Commission dated Feb. 11 and seen by Reuters, said it was considering plans to make public transport free in cities suffering from air quality problems. It also outlined more conventional measures such as low emissions zones.
France's environment minister in turn said in a statement on Tuesday that it plans a meeting on Thursday with local officials in areas in breach of pollution limits to draft a plan by the end of March. It said that a national plan presented last May should help reduce health-harming emissions.
Italy sent its own letter to Brussels last week outlining plans to spend 6.5 billion euros to improve air quality "in coming years", according to a ministry statement. Among the projects are upgrades to local and regional buses and incentives for sustainable transportation projects.
The EU Commission can take countries to Europe's top court if they breach EU law. Poland as well as Bulgaria have already faced legal action over air quality issues. (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome, Michelle Martin in Berlin and Nina Chestney in London; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Adrian Croft)