As countries around Europe strive in the first weeks of the year to conclude spending plans that will guide how they deploy billions of EU funds for the 2014-2020 budgetary period, last week saw a welcome move in Poland with the shelving of a controversial airport proposal that had been in line for EU support.
, | 22 January 2014
On January 14, the regional government of Podlaskie (eastern Poland) announced that it would be dropping its plan to build a new regional airport that was to have involved 80 million euro support from the European Regional Development Fund.
The Podlaskie decision comes after many years of preparation for the airport project, which had been promoted by the regional authorities in spite of its questionable rationale.
Indeed plans to finance the airport via the EU funds in the previous 2007-2013 period failed to materialise mainly due to the fact that the airport was planned in a location that would have endangered the wildlife of the Biebrza and Narew river valleys that are protected as national parks. Following this failure, the regional authority pressed on with a determination to finance the investment in the upcoming EU budgetary period, and a new location – in Topolany – was chosen in line with the results of a new environmental impact assessment.
However, as preparations for the 2014-2020 budgetary period gathered pace, questions have increasingly been raised about the rationale to build new regional airports in Europe, in particular when public money support is involved.
Bankwatch contributed to this discussion with the publication of a report in 2012 that highlighted the financial burden caused by the operation of such regional airports on regional budgets, as well as the practice of subsidising air connections in order to attract any traffic. Indeed, even Europe’s Budget Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, has expressed doubts about the need to build further airports in Poland given the current low traffic figures.
Importantly, last week’s announcement from the regional authority confirmed that the municipalities, businesses and citizens of Podlaskie themselves have been questioning the need to build an airport for the region, as reflected by the results of public consultations for the Regional Operational Programme 2014-2020. It seems that other tranpsort modes, and in particular the rehabilitation of existing railway connections within the region and with Warsaw, would bring greater benefits to the regional economy and the mobility of Podlaskie’s inhabitants.
Following this recent breakthrough, Polish Green Network and Bankwatch are stepping up calls for faster implementation of rail upgrade projects by the national government in order to better connect the Podlasie region with the rest of the country, including Warsaw and its two operating airports.
Particular focus, we feel, now needs to be placed on the Rail Baltica that would connect Warsaw with Białystok and then the Baltic countries. The plans are there, EU financial support is available, yet the project failed to materialise in the current budgetary period as only a very short section of the route next to Warsaw is currently being upgraded. Implementation of the Rail Baltica project should now take off as quickly as possible with 2014-2020 EU money.
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