NEWS

Finance minister wanted

Rapanos rejects position, citing health reasons, but cabinet lineup also played part

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is due to meet the leaders of the other two parties in his coalition government on Tuesday to discuss who could fill the role of finance minister after National Bank President Vassilis Rapanos turned down the position on Monday for health and political reasons.

Rapanos upset the government?s plans when he wrote to Samaras Monday to declare that he is not well enough to become finance minister. The banker was hospitalized after complaining of stomach pains and dizziness on Friday. He was still undergoing tests on Monday.

?The recent incident that led me to being hospitalized indicated that my health problem has not been overcome,? Rapanos said in his letter. ?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 fulfill my duties adequately.?

Samaras responded by accepting Rapanos?s decision and wishing him a quick recovery. Sources said the prime minister had suspected since Saturday the would-be finance minister would reject the role. It appears that beyond his health problems, Rapanos had serious concerns about the cabinet named by Samaras.

Sources said that Rapanos had expected technocrats like caretaker Development Minister Yiannis Stournaras and ex-Interior Minister Tasos Yiannitsis to hold ministerial positions and the banker?s own choices to be appointed as deputy ministers in his department. Rapanos is also thought to have been alarmed by the content of the coalition?s policy program, which was made public on Saturday. He felt the proposals would have made achieving the country?s fiscal targets more difficult and would have been challenged by Greece?s creditors.

The post is currently held by caretaker Giorgos Zannias. One option open to Samaras is to keep the experienced Zannias in the position for the time being. Yiannitsis and Stournaras were also linked to the role on Monday but the former is thought not to be interested. As things stand, Zannias will accompany President Karolos Papoulias to the European Union leaders? summit on Thursday, so a new finance minister will not be sworn in until Saturday at the earliest.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis, who Samaras will meet at his home Tuesday, held talks Monday and decided not to travel to Brussels this week. Instead, they agreed to wait until Samaras recovers from eye surgery to fly there together.

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