As Horace reminds us, “Your own safety is at stake when your neighbour’s wall is ablaze.” The current ceasefire notwithstanding, since at least one wall of one of Poland’s neighbours is currently ablaze, is Poland’s safety at stake?
Not immediately, it seems. Unlike Ukraine, Poland is member of NATO which guarantees – not so far tested by brother Putin – that an attack on one member is an attack on all. And while nobody has yet agreed to send any heavy arms to Ukraine (please see Weapons) to help to put out the fire (a rather counter-intuitive way of expressing it, I admit) NATO has at least begun to show a firmer commitment to its eastern flank with more air patrols, additional NATO soldiers in Poland, the creation of a raid reaction unit, and calls for increased military expenditure which calls, despite the current uncertainty, still appear to be falling, if not exactly on deaf ears, then certainly on those of the hard of hearing.
Poland’s cabinet is discussing plans to increase military expenditure in 2016 to the two per cent of GDP which is recommended by NATO but not legally binding on its members. This year, Poland will commit 1.96 per cent of GDP to defence spending with the defence ministry itself proposing that a fifth of the budget be spent on new kit and research. Since the defence of the country should be the primary purpose of any government, these percentages do seem unimpressive. By comparison, the USA spends 3.3 per cent, China 2 per cent, Russia 4.1 per cent and the UK 2.3 per cent.
Be that as it may, in the wider context of European security, Poles are in favour of further European integration. In a poll conducted by Eurobarometer, 83 per cent of Polish respondents were in favour of a common defence and security policy for the EU, compared to the EU-wide average of 76 per cent. And, unsurprisingly given the crisis in Ukraine and the concerns over gas supplies from Russia, the creation of an EU energy union proved to be the second most popular idea among Poles with 74 per cent in favour, encouraging the work of Polish diplomats who are pushing for the creation of such a union.
Poles are also the leading supporters of further EU expansion with 64 per cent in favour compared to an EU-wide average of 39 per cent. And, when it comes to the TTIP free trade agreement between the USA and the EU, almost 75 per cent of Poles support it compared to the EU-wide support of under 60 per cent, reflecting concerns such as the potential environmental effects of the agreement.
Not that, as we saw in Red Line, anything as mundane as a concern for the environment would ever stop Poland seeking to get its own way in Brussels. The proof of this particular poisoned pudding is in the unpleasant eating, or rather the breathing in, of what appears to be the most polluted air in the EU.
The European Commission has now sent a second opinion on the matter to the Polish government, with the EC’s Environment Press Officer Iris Petsa telling Gazeta Wyborcza that “there are constant infringements and Poland isn’t doing anything about it”. Poland will have only two months to initiate legislation to combat poor air quality before the European Court of Justice may start to impose fines, fines which could reach up to EUR 1 billion, according to the Supreme Audit Office in Warsaw.
And it’s not only the money, but there is a high human cost to this pollution. Łukasz Adamkiewicz from the Health and Environment Alliance, told the paper that 2.5 million Poles suffer from chronic lung disease because of air pollution. For example, in southern Poland the level of toxic PM10 dust particles in the city of Kraków is above the maximum limit for 150 days a year, while in Gliwice and Zabrze in Silesia the limit is exceeded for 125 days a year.
So there you have it. Poland to Europe, fill our skies with your military aircraft and we will, depending on the wind direction, fill yours with noxious emissions. Or, to paraphrase Star Trek’s Mr. Spock: it’s integration, Jim, but not as we know it.