May 5, 2006

Polish conservatives eye majority with nationalists

By Pawel Sobczak

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling right is set to clinch a
majority after seven months of weak minority rule, bringing
into government people who had vehemently opposed the
ex-communist country's pro-Western course.

A senior government source said the Law and Justice
conservatives had reached a last-minute deal to bring fringe
nationalist League of Polish Families into the government.

The League's leader Roman Giertych, a controversial figure
due to his nationalist, anti-Western views, would become an
education minister in a reshuffled cabinet of Prime Minister
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, sources and Polish media said.

"The League and Roman Giertych will most probably join the
government today," one source, which declined to be identified,
told Reuters.

As part of their drive to end months of minority rule, the
Law and Justice conservatives have already joined forces with a
leftist Self-Defence party led by firebrand populist Andrzej
Lepper, set to become deputy prime minister.

The League and Self-Defence opposed Poland's European Union
entry in 2004 but have since toned down their criticism of the
bloc and free-market reforms.

Financial markets, Poland's EU partners and most Poles are
wary of the fringe groups entering the government, fearing they
will drive the biggest ex-communist EU member away from the
European mainstream.

The conservatives have justified what many commentators see
as a pact with the devil, saying they needed the support of the
fringe parties to push through the government's ambitious
anti-corruption agenda.

Surveys show most Poles are wary of the fringe groups
entering the government, although conservatives argue the two
parties have mellowed and agreed to pursue the conservatives'
economic and foreign policy agenda.

"This is not the optimal solution given my vision of the
world. But we don't have any other option at the moment,"
President Lech Kaczynski, twin brother of the ruling party
chief Jaroslaw, told Fakt daily in an interview.

Kaczynski is due to appoint members of the two fringe
parties to the cabinet around 1300 GMT.


Poland's strong economy has so far shielded the country's
sizeable financial market as investors gave the benefit of the
doubt to the conservative's pledges to tame the radicals.

They were also encouraged by Marcinkiewicz's pledges of
sound fiscal policies and openness to foreign investors as well
as signs the pro-reform Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska would
stay on despite her earlier concerns about the two parties.

Gilowska told Reuters in Brussels she would remain in the
cabinet if she kept control over economic policy.

"The government's economic policy must be responsible. A
good fiscal policy must be the cabinet's priority," she said.

EU diplomats said the entry of the nationalists and
Giertych into the government was set to raise doubts about the
conservatives' EU commitment.

The League's radical youth group has raised eyebrows when
pictures were published of its members giving the Nazi salute,
even though Giertych has repeatedly denied his group was

Diplomats said Poland's clout in the EU was on the line
although they doubted the bloc would ostracize Warsaw in a
similar way Austria was in 2000 when anti-immigrant firebrand
Joerg Haider joined a conservative cabinet in Vienna.

"This coalition with the nationalists is even more
difficult to justify than the deal with Self-Defence," a senior
EU diplomat in Warsaw said.

"However, nobody in the EU appears ready to do the same
thing with Poland as with Austria. This will be wait-and-see
situation and their statements will be monitored very closely."

(Additional reporting by Marcin Grajewski in Brussels and
Adam Jasser in Warsaw.)