Samaras Plans Post-Loan Cabinet Shakeup



Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis (L) and PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos (R) are set to be named Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ assistant Premiers

Once Greece gets a long-delayed $38.8 billion installment from international lenders – now expected to be Dec. 5 – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras reportedly will reshuffle his Cabinet and reward his coalition partners, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis, by making them Deputy Prime Ministers.

Venizelos and Kouvelis gave their party votes to the New Democracy leader so that he could form a government after he won the June 17 elections without enough of the vote to control Parliament. Since then, they have occasionally objected in public to some of the austerity measures he proposed in return for bailout loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) but have mostly gone along with his demands.

During a critical debate on a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan that narrowly passed Parliament this month, Kouvelis instructed his members to vote present, while Venizelos supported the Prime Minister and ejected six of his party members who didn’t. In a subsequent budget vote, Kouvelis and Venizelos and their lawmakers acquiesced to Samaras.

Eurozone leaders are set to meet in Brussels on Nov. 20 to consider the loan release which is the first in a second bailout of $173 billion in rescue monies. Greece had been subsisting on a first bailout of $152 billion granted 2 ½ years ago, but which came with harsh austerity measures aimed primarily at workers, pensioners and the poor.

“The reshuffle will take place after the installment,” a government official told Reuters, adding that Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, who has been the point man in negotiations with the Troika will retain his post but that other New Demcracy ministers will be replaced with those from PASOK and the Democratic Left. Venizelos had previously rejected that idea, reportedly because he didn’t want his party to be linked to the government if it failed.

While Greece has voted in the tough budget cuts to meet lenders’ conditions, it has failed yet to pass stringent structural reforms to make the economy more competitive, such as liberalizing professions and opening up markets. Government officials said ministers who have a poor track record with The troika of international lenders will be booted out in favor of PASOK and Democratic Left lawmakers, some of whom reportedly backed the Samaras budget in hopes of being appointed.

“It won’t be a PR trick to gain time. It will be a rare occasion when a reshuffle is done for practical reasons,” said a second government official who declined to be named. “Samaras will aim for consolidation and efficiency.” Analysts said a reshuffle is unlikely to give the government a much-needed boost in opinion polls.

Recent polls show two-thirds of Greeks disapprove of the government, seeing little hope, especially for unemployment, now at over 25 percent. “There will be a fuss and the press will keep busy for a while but it will not mean much for the government’s effectiveness or public support,”independent political analyst John Loulis told Reuters. “In today’s climate,” he added, “People just don’t care.”


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