Poland's ruling coalition strained by EU budget compromise

WARSAW (Reuters) - Rifts in Poland’s ruling coalition widened after the justice minister criticised the prime minister for accepting a European Union budget compromise, although officials on Friday brushed off talk of an impending split.

The unity of the country’s United Right coalition has been tested over whether or not to veto the EU’s 2021-2027 budget and its related coronavirus recovery fund because of a clause linking cash with respect for the rule of law.

The coalition, led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party with the support of two other conservative groups, has drawn criticism from the EU for policies that the bloc says flout democratic principles and undermine the judiciary.

“The decision to accept this clause in the budget package without legally enforceable safeguards is a mistake,” Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, an arch-conservative from a coalition partner, wrote on Facebook late on Thursday.

He called for more talks on next steps by the coalition, after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki from PiS accepted the compromise during negotiations in Brussels and called for the coalition to settle their differences.

United Poland has a sceptical view of the EU and has drawn in hard right voters opposed to immigration and LGBT rights.

Many religious conservatives in predominantly Catholic Poland say the EU’s rule of law mechanism could be a first step to forcing the country to accept policies like gay marriage.

The coalition’s other partner, Accord, led by Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, has a more centrist and pro-European approach. It backed the EU compromise.

Gowin called on Friday for unity in the coalition, saying it would help avoid an early election. “We want to ask for solidarity and I believe that responsibility will win for Poland,” he said.

Members of the government say disagreement within the coalition was a sign of diversity not an imminent break up.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz, Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Jon Boyle and Edmund Blair