The Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the Act on the Central Communication Port. At the cost of EUR 8-10 billion in Baranów in the very centre of Poland, between Warsaw and Łódź, the third largest city in the country, a new airport is to be constructed. The port is to be an intercontinental one and to ultimately serve up to 100 million passengers annually. Its opening is expected at the end of 2027.
The projects of its construction began to formulate when the opposition party Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) was still in power. This, however, does not stop its members from subjecting the whole idea to enormous criticism. The pretext for this state of affairs is the simultaneously planned liquidation of the Chopin airport in Warsaw’s south-eastern neighbourhood of Okęcie, which can no longer be expanded, and which is not able to handle the ever-growing traffic. However, this criticism is so unfortunate that the dispute about the sense of this large investment, which is to be made from taxpayers’ money, has become a political dispute, not an economic one or one carried out by transportation and aviation experts.
Rafał Trzaskowski, one of the leaders of the Civic Platform and a candidate for the office of president of the city of Warsaw, declared that Poland did not need a gigantic airport, because a large airport would soon be opened in Berlin. The airport in Berlin was birthed in pain, the construction has great delays and the budget has been exceeded several times. It is one of the symbols of how often the state is not able to deal with such investments and how much money is wasted in such undertakings.
Trzaskowski is quite right. Poles living in western Poland have it much closer and more comfortable to Berlin in the east of Germany than to the capital of Poland or Baranów, where the new airport is to be built. More or less half of Poland is better communicated with the capital of Germany than with its own. Even the best airport in the centre of Poland will not attract residents of West Pomerania, Greater Poland, or Lower Silesia.
However, the unfortunate statement by Trzaskowski stripped of all reason any further discussion on the sense of the investment and transferred it completely to the sphere of politics and symbolism. It is accompanied by the election campaign to the local government and a “skirmish for Warsaw”, where these are not local activists that compete, but always the most important politicians from major parties and where the trials before the parliamentary elections take place.
Maybe if it were about Prague (only in theory, because the capital of the Czech Republic is much further away from the Polish borders) and not Berlin, that statement by the Civic Platform politician would not arouse such heated emotions. But Berlin equals Germany, according to the ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS for short; Law and Justice) almost an eternal enemy of Poland, that even now is trying to enforce on us an economic status of some European semi-colony.
The idea by PiS of building the Central Communication Port is criticised by the entire opposition, pointing out that considering Poland’s location on the map and the unknown trends in the development of air transport, there is no point in spending so much money on an investment that will never be fully utilised. It is better to spend these funds on something else. However, in the context of Berlin, the construction of the airport becomes a patriotic one and not a communication venture anymore. Its primary goal, as PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said, is to consolidate Poland around large infrastructure investments and to support territorial integrity. Similarly, at the beginning of the 21st century, Kaczyński spoke about the need to build motorways, pointing out that Poles from the west of Poland were making use German roads. The airport is also to support the Polish national airline LOT.
Thus, the main task of the Port is the state-forming function, not providing air traffic services. There were also references to the past. The project begins to be compared to the construction of the sea port in Gdynia in the interwar period. After regaining independence in 1918, Poland gained access to the sea on a small stretch of the coastline, but there hadn’t been any port. The construction that began in 1922 did have a patriotic dimension in a country that was reborn, but it was also very practical. The idea of building an airport seems to lack the latter dimension. This opinion is shared by the Polish public opinion. According to the polls, the idea is supported by only 36% of Poles, while 43% oppose it. The residents of Warsaw and Mazovia asses the project most severely and in vast majority are against it.
Meanwhile, the Germans themselves have come in aid of the plans of the PiS government. All thanks to their media. German newspapers are zealously convincing its readers that the idea of building a large intercontinental airport in central Poland is pointless, and the new port may be a threat to the one in Berlin. “Berliner Morgenpost” wrote that the airport in Baranów would significantly complicate the plans of the Germans, and “Handelsblatt” treated the issue in a similar fashion. “Berliner Zeitung” stated that it would be direct competition for the Berlin Brandenburg airport. The idea of building an airport in Baranów is also heavily criticised by the Polish edition of “Newsweek”, which belongs to the German media company Axel Springer.
If anything were to convince Poles to change their negative opinion about a huge and perhaps senseless investment, those might actually by the critical voices of the German media. Poles are particularly allergic to any attempts from the country on Elbe to teach them right from wrong. Therefore, everything can simply be reduced to a patriotic game of Poland versus Germany.
Author: Dariusz Matuszak