Prague/Brussels, Feb 28 (CTK) – The EC has launched infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic over its failure to put selected areas on the Natura 2000 list of European protected localities, which may result in a lawsuit if Prague did not meet the EC’s demand, according to CTK’s information.

Confirming this to CTK on Sunday, Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO) said he will inform the cabinet about the EC’s step on Monday.

The EC says Prague violated the EU law by failing to put on the list the valleys of the Labe (Elbe) River near Hrensko, north Bohemia (Porta Bohemica), and Prelouc, est Bohemia (Slavikovy ostrovy), the inclusion of which Brussels has demanded for several years.

The proceedings would continue with further steps if the Czech Republic failed to meet the EC’s requirement. If it did not meet it at all, the EC may sue the country, which could be punished with financial sanctions or the withdrawal of EU subsidies.

“The EC on Thursday decided to address a formal notification to Prague over the incomplete Czech Natura 2000 list. The Czech Republic has two months now to explain why it has not listed the two localities. I will inform the cabinet about the affair on Monday, and I will consult it on what to do next,” Brabec said.

The EC’s pilot proceedings against Prague, which precede the infringement proceedings over the violation of European law, have been underway for several years now.

In early February, the Czech centre-left cabinet discussed the extension of the list but, outvoting Brabec, the ministers refused to list the two localities in question.

In reaction to it, the EC asked the Czech government on Thursday to comment on its decision in two months. If the answer were dissatisfactory, the EC would ask the Czech Republic to correct the situation. If Prague failed to do so, the EC may file a legal action with the European Court of Justice.

The EC wants the Labe valley near Hrensko to be Natura 2000-listed mainly for the sake of the protection of the salmon and beaver.

Daily Lidove noviny (LN) wrote earlier this month that Prague backpedalled on the plan to list the valley in reaction to protests from businesspeople and the region concerned.

The Czech Industry Confederation and the self-rule Usti nad Labem Region feared that if the area along the Czech northernmost reaches of the Labe were entered in Natura 2000, it would definitely prevent the construction of a lock and a weir at this section of the river, LN wrote.

A lock and a weir are necessary to secure the permanent navigability of the Labe in this area where the river leaves Bohemia for Saxony north of Decin, the project’s advocates argue.

For a similar reason, in order not to prevent the construction of a water corridor near Prelouc, dozens of kilometres upstream the Labe in east Bohemia, the government did not put the Slavikovy ostrovy locality on the Nature 2000 list, though it hosts the largest Czech population of the dusky large blue butterfly, the daily wrote.

“It is an international scandal and an economic loss for the Czech Republic,” it quoted Jana Vitnerova, from the Arnika environmental group, as saying.

The Czech list of significant European localities was approved in 2005 and it has been revised and extended twice since. The EC assessed it in 2009 for the last time.