Polish lawmakers approve divisive plans for new airport

Polish lawmakers have approved divisive legislation paving the way for the construction of what they intend will become one of Europe's largest airports — and China's gateway to the continent.

According to the government's plans, the airport is to be built in central Poland by the end of 2027, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Warsaw and near a highway leading toward Berlin and Western Europe. It is initially to serve some 45 million passengers a year, along with huge cargo traffic between Asia and Europe. Its target capacity is to be 100 million passengers a year.

Approval is still needed from the Senate and from President Andrzej Duda.

The idea for the new airport was born out of the right-wing government's efforts to develop large-scale trade cooperation with China and to help it get a foothold in Europe. The government argues that Poland's economy, which is among Europe's fastest-growing, needs new powerful partners and large projects.

During a visit to China last year, Poland's official in charge of the project, Mikolaj Wild, said that Beijing was open to talks on the airport as it develops its "Belt and Road" initiative aimed at boosting its international trade ties. There have been no reports of any Chinese commitment, though.

Poland's opposition parties and many ordinary Poles criticize the plan because it calls for the closing of the popular Frederic Chopin airport, located in Warsaw.

Opposition candidate for Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, said that development in Warsaw will suffer.

Residents in Baranowo county, where the new airport will be located, say they have not been officially informed about their future or about the terms on which the government will buy their land. They are to hold a referendum next month on whether they support the plan.

Wild said that Chopin airport has reached its capacity and is a noisy inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of people living in its neighborhood, while the new facility will be better-placed and will offer huge economic potential for the region and the entire country.

The vote late Thursday was 235-190 with four abstentions.