After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the former Czechoslovakia experienced the most enthusiastic wave of environmental law drafting in its history. The Czech Act on Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA Act”) was among the first new environmental statutes adopted already in 1992 with the intention to harmonize Czechoslovakian law with European Union (“EU”) law and to prevent exploitation and pollution of the environment in Czechoslovakia, which in the early 1990s counted for one of the worst in the world. The hardship of transition process that hit Czechoslovakia in 1992 caused a shift from enthusiastic pro-active environmental movement towards more pragmatic approach that there must be first the economic growth before focusing on environmental protection. Unfortunately this approach still dominates the Czech politics and adversely affects the Czech performance in meeting the obligations arising from the EU membership,namely the obligation to implement the EU environmental law.
After more than twenty years of applying EIA, the Czech law is still not in compliance with the EU law. For more than ten years Czech politicians have successfully resisted the need for compliance with the EU requirements on public participation and access to justice. This active resistance is subject of relentless criticism from the environmental non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) and lately also from the EU Commission. The Czech attitude towards its EU membership duties can be characterized by one Czech proverb that gained popularity during the Soviet rule: to trick the regime, act cunningly so as the hungry wolf fills up but the goat he wanted to eat remains unharmed. In this respect the Czechs often act as though they have fulfilled all their duties properly (so the hungry wolf filled up), but nothing has in fact changed (the goat remained whole).
This article traces development of environmental impact assessment law in the Czech Republic during its preparation for the accession to the EU and then during EU membership and uses an example of environmental impact assessment law to show how the post-communist legacy lead the Czech Republic from an ambition to be a leader in environmental policymaking to a position of a laggard. It concludes that for the post-Communist countries, such as the Czech Republic, the EU membership plays an important role of a stabilizing factor and the only driving force for enhancing environmental standards