After EU Loss, Samaras Plans Shakeup



Greek Premier Antonis Samaras is trying to keep his coalition from going up in smoke
Greek Premier Antonis Samaras is trying to keep his coalition from going up in smoke

Following his coalition’s defeat in European Parliament elections to the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is mulling yet another rejiggering of his Cabinet and reportedly is even considering whether to ask other parties to join.

Samaras’ administration, which includes his New Democracy Conservatives and the PASOK Socialists, has only a two-vote majority in Parliament and media reports said he’s so anxious about his party’s 3.8 percent loss to SYRIZA that he may ask the Independent Greeks and Democratic Left (DIMAR) to join the coalition.

The Independent Greeks is made up of New Democracy ejects and rejects and got only 2.7 percent of the vote despite its vehement opposition to the austerity measures the government kept imposing on orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that is putting up 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two bailouts.

DIMAR had been a member of the coalition until party leader Fotis Kouvelis withdrew last year in objection to the firing of all 2,653 workers at the now-defunct national broadcaster ERT that has been replaced.

But Kouvelis had also backed pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions that are antithetical to the party’s principles and took a beating for it, finishing dead last with 1.5 percent of the vote, only half the 3 percent threshold needed to win seats in the Greek Parliament in national elections.

The Independent Greeks, headed by firebrand Panos Kammenos, have 15 seats in the Greek Parliament and DIMAR has 14 based on the 2012 vote, but Kouvelis has repeatedly said he won’t come back to the government.

After Samars said the historic win by SYRIZA, the first by a far- leftist party in Greece, wasn’t large enough to force national elections he turned to looking again at his Cabinet, which he has blamed previously for failing him and led to the replacement of ministers.

But it also has PASOK officials and the two parties, despite serving in a coalition, have still tangled over ideological issues although Venizelos, who was made Deputy Premer/Foreign Minister for backing austerity, has generally relented to what Samaras wants.

Tsipras though reated his call for national elections “as soon as possible” after visiting President Karolos Papoulias. and pointed to a “major disharmony between the public will and the representation in Parliament.“ He told reporters: “We should go to national elections as soon as possible, in an organized and calm manner, to restore democratic normality.”

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou called it an “unprecedented institutional aberration,” while Venizelos deemed it “unconstitutional.” Earlier, in a televised statement reacting to the vote results, Samaras railed that “those who tried to turn the European election into a plebiscite failed.”

Samaras is due in Brussels on May 27 to  to attend meetings with his European peers and with members of the European People’s Party, which suffered the loss of 63 seats, to 211, in the European Parliament as voters across Europe went big for far-right and extremist groups.

He is scheduled to meet with Venizelos in Athens on May 29 to talk strategy and go over progress in enforcing reforms demanded bythe Troika, as well discussing a cabinet reshuffle.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, the government point man with the Troika and credited with helping create a primary surplus and burgeoning recovery from a crushing economic crisis, is reportedly going to take over the job as Bank of Greece Governor in a promotion.

But Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis, the government’s pit bull who has gotten embroiled in public confrontations over health care cuts,  said to be on the chopping block, along with Labor Minister Yannis Vroutsis as record joblessness remains.

Aris Spiliotopoulos, New Democracy’s failed candidate for mayor of Athens – who didn’t even make the runoff round – is still expected to be rewarded with a cabinet post. Most Greek ministers have little or no experience in the fields to which they are appointed.