ATHENS – The prime minister’s office says Greece’s designated Finance Minister, Vassilis Rapanos, who was rushed to a hospital on June 22 after he felt nausea, abdominal cramps and fainted, has resigned after being released, citing ill health
Rapanos, President of the National Bank of Greece, had been named Greece’s top financial officer last week in the country’s new three-party coalition government, set to assume perhaps the most critical position in the Cabinet of new Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy party.
Rapanos was to be sworn in next week but his ill health, along with a history of health problems, including cancer, set off immediate speculation he would step down, leaving Samaras the challenge of trying to find a qualified replacement as Greece struggles to get out from under a crushing $460 billion debt, get out of a deep recession of 22.6 unemployment, and revive an economy that is shrinking.
In his letter of resignation to Samaras’s office, Rapanos explained that, “The recent incident that led me to being hospitalized indicated that my health problem has not been overcome. Following discussions that I had with my doctors, I have concluded that the condition of my health, for the time being, is not what it should be in order to fulfil my duties adequately.”
Samaras, meanwhile, was hospitalized as well after undergoing surgery for a detached retina, which meant that the country’s two top officials would be unable to attend a critical meeting of European Union leaders on June 28-29 and plead the country’s case for more time to implement harsh austerity measures required by international lenders in return for two bailout loans.
The Troika of the EU-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) put up a first series of rescue loans in 2010 for $152 billion and is set to release another $173 billion, but only on condition that the new coalition government that also includes the PASOK Socialists and tiny Democratic Left adhere to reforms that Samaras signed while serving in a previous coalition with PASOK. Samaras said he has changed his mind and wants to redo some of the conditions, but the Troika said he cannot and must make another $15 billion in cuts.
The job of Finance Minister is perhaps the most thankless and most visible, apart from Prime Minister, and the holder will have to try to renegotiate the austerity measures, one of Samaras’ top priorities after he reversed himself and said he opposes many of the conditions he signed before the critical June 17 elections that he narrowly won after the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) first said it would re-do the terms or renege on the bailouts. Samaras said that would have forced Greece out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency, but did not explain why his attempts to renegotiate would not. The new Finance Minister will also have to try to convince the Troika to delay its demands for another $15 billion in cuts and the firing of 150,000 state workers.
With so much at stake at the EU meeting, Greece was to be represented by a team of officials while George Zanias, who served as Finance Minister during a six-week caretaker government, will attend as Greece’s chief financial officer although he no longer holds that job. ProtoThema reported that names of a possible replacement for Rapanos had already started popping up, including New Democracy Vice-President Stavros Dimas, 71, a former European Commissioner who studied law and holds a Master’s Degree from New York University. Dimas is known for his quiet demeanor and keeping a low profile, but has little background in financial affairs and is a party loyalist.