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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom Deal Nearly Topples Minister

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's treasury minister on Thursday survived a confidence vote in parliament forced by opposition parties critical of personnel changes in major state-owned companies and new gas supply policies.

The Sejm, parliament's lower chamber, voted 251-169, with 13 abstentions, to reject the no-confidence motion against Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek.

Kaczmarek came under fire in early December for replacing management boards of several companies, including Poland's state-owned gas monopoly Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo, or PGNiG.

The move prevented a change in the ownership structure of EuRoPolGaz, a Polish-Russian joint venture set up after Poland signed a long-term gas deal with Gazprom in 1995.

Under the 1995 agreement between Poland and Russia, Poland's gas company and Gazprom were supposed to hold equal 50 percent stakes in EuRoPolGaz.

For reasons that are still not clear, however, a new shareholder controlled by Gazprom and its Polish trading partner Bartimpex, was brought into the venture with a 4 percent share.

The former government and the recently dismissed board of the gas company had been trying to eliminate the minority shareholder.

The opposition charged that the government was supporting the interest of a private company involved in gas imports, but Kaczmarek and Prime Minister Leszek Miller said the no-confidence motion was political. Miller's party, the formerly communist SLD party, won Polish elections in September.

The opposition is also angry that Miller's government, prompted by lower gas consumption forecasts, is reconsidering a long-term gas import deal with Gazprom as well as similar agreements with Denmark and Norway signed by the former administration shortly before elections.

Poland, which relies mostly on gas imports from Russia, has been trying to diversify its gas supplies for security reasons.

Opposition deputies charged Kaczmarek, who denied all allegations, with politically motivated reshuffles in managements of state-controlled companies following Kaczmarek's SLD party's victory in the general elections.

Apart from changing the chiefs of the PGNiG gas monopoly, the treasury switched the managements of the flagship copper and silver miner KGHM, the National Power Grid, the lottery firm Totalizator Sportowy and the press distribution chain Ruch.

During a stormy debate in the parliament preceding the vote, Miller defended the minister, saying changes in state-controlled companies would continue.

"Mr. Kaczmarek will continue with his policy and will remove incompetent people [from state-controlled companies], regardless of whether you like it or not," Miller told legislators during the debate Wednesday.

"You can propose more no-confidence vote motions, but I am convinced that our responsible parliamentary majority will reject them one by one," Miller said.

This was the second no-confidence vote faced by a minister from the three-month-old Cabinet. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz survived a vote in mid-December tabled by opposition parties angered over his handling of European Union entry talks.

(AP, Reuters)