As part of a last-ditch effort to bring six EU Member States into line for failing to meet mandated air quality standards, the European Commission on May 17 referred Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Hungary, and Romania to Europe's highest court after they failed to comply at an earlier stage.
Commissioner Vella said it was the Commission's responsibility to ensure people could breathe clean air.
"The commission had to conclude that. that the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible, and therefore are being referred to court", Vella said.
The move follows a summit in January in which the Commission said it would get tough on member states that were still in breach of targets.
The Luxembourg-based court can impose heavy fines.
"We can not wait any longer", Vella said, warning that Brussels may end up waiting several more years before the countries put measures in place.
"But it can not be in our interest to weaken the automobile sector to such an extent that it no longer has the strength to invest in its own future".
The commission has been urging the wayward countries to establish incentives for the transport, energy and agricultural sector as well as improve urban planning and building design to improve on pollution.
The European Commission also issued a letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom for disregarding EU measures to deter auto manufacturers from trying to cheat emissions tests, introduced in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal.
As the announcement was being made, lawyers for Paris, Madrid and Brussels were in front of the European Court of Justice asking that the three cities be allowed to challenge vehicle emissions regulations set by the European Commissions and agreed by national governments.
Germany, Britain and France were targeted for failing to meet limits on NO2 while Italy, Hungary and Romania exceeded limits on particulate matter.
The European Environmental Bureau, an umbrella grouping of activists who dubbed the nine countries summoned in January a "toxic bloc", welcomed the commission's action. "The countries being sent to court have had too many final warnings".
A spokesman said: "We continue to meet European Union air quality limits for all pollutants apart from NO2, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down".
The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said the EU "owed it to its citizens", to take legal action.
The problem is also broader across the bloc than just the nine countries. Recently, there were accusations that the EU was unfairly targeting Eastern Europe, where fossil fuels still reign supreme, but today's ruling for the first time names and shames Western European countries.
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