Czech president advocating for huge canal project

Part of Odra-Dunaj canal in Poland, photo: Jaroslav Kubec, CC BY-SA 3.0

A mammoth canal project, estimated to cost at least 300 billion crowns, which would connect three Central European rivers – namely the Odra, Labe and Danube – is to be advocated by Czech President Miloš Zeman in front of MEPs in Strasbourg early next year. The Czech president has long been a proponent of the controversial plan, which appears to contradict the plans of the new coalition government to quietly shelve the project.

Part of Odra-Dunaj canal in Poland,  photo: Jaroslav Kubec,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Thirty years of planning, followed by thirty years of construction; estimated costs between 300 and 400 billion crowns. All to connect three major rivers via a 370 kilometre canal system traversing eastern Moravia, and thus create a pan-European shipping transport hub carrying 9.5 million tones of cargo annually. The incoming Czech coalition government is widely expected to cancel a 25 million crown feasibility study seen as the next step down the road of realizing this huge project. Simply put, it has other more pressing priorities. Slovakia, Germany and Austria also appear to be unenthusiastic, with only Poland in favour.

However, the Czech president remains undaunted, pressing for the Czech Republic to join the EU’s proposed Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T), as well as for MEPs to consider financing 85% of the costs of building the proposed canal.

Jan Skalický is a waterway expert and deputy chair of the Dunaj (or Danube) -Odra-Labe Association, an advocacy group pressing for the realization of the project. He expressed considerable gratitude for Zeman’s interest:

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“We are very glad for the fact that the President, even before he was president, allowed himself to be convinced of the economic necessity of this project. He also understands that negotiations with the Polish, Slovak and Austrian sides, who all have their own local conceptions for canal projects, will not be easy. But the main issue is that the Czech Republic has not yet outwardly stated whether it wants this water corridor or not. It just keeps asking its neighbours for their opinions. And that is why we are so glad that Mr. Zeman is heading out on his European missions to advocate for this project. The fact that he will be dealing with MEPs, likely in March, is very significant, as is his lobbying for a reversal of the Transport Ministry’s decision and to return the Czech Republic to the Trans-European Transport Networks conception.”

Skalický also believes the new government should push for a series of smaller steps that will move the project forward:

Jan Skalický,  photo: Alžběta Švarcová
“The projected completion date would be some time between 2039 and 2045. But it important to note that the corridor would be built in stages. The first phase would be in northern Moravia to connect the Silesian part of the Morava River to the Odra. There would also be construction in southern Moravia, creating anti-flooding systems in Kroměříž and Troubky; connecting the Hodonín terminal to the Dunaj and so forth. These individual components can be built far sooner, and can bring about benefits in terms of anti-flooding measures, hydro-electrics, transport and irrigation, which means these phases of the project can essentially pay for themselves.”

But Mr. Zeman will have to win over more than MEPs and fellow European leaders. He will also have to convince the incoming coalition government. The recently published text of the coalition agreement mentions the canal project, but notes that it will not be approved until economic and environmental issues are studied, and until there is a consensus from affected countries.