The European Commission (the “EC”) has long been pointing out the poor transposition of the EIA Directive into Czech law. On 25 April 2013, the EC initiated infringement procedure against the Czech Republic, threatening to stop the subsidies if the EIA Act does not become effective as of 1 January 2015. Furthermore, the European Court of Justice could impose financial sanctions against the Czech Republic.
EC criticized, in particular, the non-binding nature of the EIA opinion in the Czech Republic, insufficient influence of the public and the NGOs over the building authorization procedures and the impossibility to challenge the substance of the EIA opinion before court. All criticized deficiencies should be remedied by the amendment.
The amendment comprises three basic elements. Firstly, unlike in the current setup, the EIA procedure will result in a separate and binding environmental authorization (administrative decision). Secondly, the term “public concerned”, i.e., the public entitled to participate in the EIA procedure, is explicitly defined and includes the NGOs. Finally, in proceedings prior to the issuance of the environmental authorization, the public concerned would enjoy rights under the EIA Directive, including judicial protection, i.e., would be able to challenge the resultant environmental authorization before court from both the substantive and procedural aspects.
The amendment was subject to a heated debate in the Parliament, among the developers and the professional public. Some members of the Parliament were pushing for the postponement and mitigation of the amendment because it could slow down the building authorization procedures. Such outcome would be contrary to the general efforts of the government to simplify and streamline the procedures by amending the Building Act in the future. We will have to wait to see whether these fears were justified.