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France suffered an embarrassing defeat at the European Union’s top court over EU warnings that big cities from Paris to Nice exceeded pollution limits caused mainly by diesel-car engines.

In the first ruling following a recent crackdown on dirty air in nations including Germany, Italy and the U.K., judges at the EU Court of Justice said France “systematically and persistently exceeded the annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide since Jan. 1, 2010.”

The European Commission sued the nations last year, saying they’d failed to meet limits on nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which are mostly caused by road traffic, industry, heating and agriculture.

“France did not implement appropriate and effective measures to ensure that the exceedance period of nitrogen dioxide limit values would be kept as short as possible within the meaning” of EU law, the Luxembourg-based court said.

Thursday’s ruling could offer clues about the outcome of the other pending cases, throwing more spotlight on diesel engines also at the center of an emissions scandal that’s roiled the German auto industry.

The motors are the main emitters of nitrogen oxides, which cause respiratory problems and has been linked to premature deaths. Under EU rules, member countries are required to keep the gas to under 40 micrograms per cubic meter.

France’s Ecology Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a statement that “the government is determined to quickly and lastingly improve air quality.”

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