Antonis Samaras was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday and his coalition cabinet is due to be named on Thursday as the unity government begins the task of trying to extract Greece from an increasingly damaging economic crisis.
Samaras became Greece’s 13th prime minister since the return of democracy to the country in 1974. In comments to reporters, he stressed the need for “patriotism, national unity and trust that with God’s help we can ensure that the Greek people emerge from the crisis as soon as possible.” He said he would push his ministers to “work hard” in order to give Greek people “tangible hope.”
During the handover with outgoing caretaker Premier Panayiotis Pikrammenos, Samaras said, “I am fully aware of the critical moments we face as a country.” He added that Greeks were “injured” and needed “healing.” Pikrammenos wished Samaras luck and said the conservative leader was assuming power “at a difficult and historic crossroads.” “You have many battles to fight at home and abroad,” he said.
Samaras was sworn in after talks with his two coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left. Earlier, both of the junior coalition partners had decided not to provide MPs for cabinet positions.
PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos met with his party’s 33 MPs in the morning and convinced them that the Socialists should not provide any frontline figures for government roles.
Venizelos suggested PASOK would recommend that figures such as caretaker Development Minister Yannis Stournaras and former Interior Minister Tassos Yiannitsis be part of the Cabinet.
The PASOK leader’s stance did not meet with total approval. Former Health Minister Andreas Loverdos was reportedly strongly in favor of PASOK taking a more active role in the government.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Democratic Left’s central committee approved a proposal for the leftists to support the new administration but not provide any members for the Cabinet.
The meeting ended at 1.30 a.m. after 70 percent of members approved party leader Fotis Kouvelis’s proposal that Democratic Left remain out of the Cabinet. The party may ask for some figures who are ideologically aligned with Democratic Left, although not members, to join the government.
The leftists want some of the members of the caretaker administration, such as Interior Minister Antonis Manitakis and Labor Minister Antonis Roupakiotis, to stay on.
Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis decided that the new government would comprise 15 ministers and about 20 deputy ministers. This represents a substantial reduction from the 49 ministers and deputies that served in the interim cabinet under Lucas Papademos. PASOK will propose candidates for four ministers and as many deputy ministers. Democratic Left will put forward candidates for two ministerial posts and two deputy ministers.
The new prime minister wants to create separate tourism and merchant marine ministries. These departments had been absorbed into the Development Ministry. The re-establishment of the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry is also on the cards.
It appears that the parties also agreed to make an informal cross-party committee out of the panel that has been discussing the details of the new government’s policy framework since Monday. This consists of Evangelos Meimarakis and Chrysanthos Lazaridis from New Democracy, Costas Skandalidis and Stelios Angeloudis of PASOK and Dimitris Chatzisokratis and Sakis Papathanasiou of Democratic Left. The party leaders decided that it would be useful to use this committee to discuss day-to-day problems and ensure cooperation between the parties in the coalition.
Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis held talks on Wednesday night with caretaker Finance Minister Giorgos Zannias and National Bank President Vassilis Rapanos, who is being lined up to take over the post. Zannias will represent Greece at Thursday’s Eurogroup meeting and it was decided that all three leaders would travel together to next week’s European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels.
“We have to prepare very well for the European summit; it will be the first battle to change the program and return to growth,” Venizelos said earlier in the day, referring to Greece’s debt deal with creditors. He slammed leftist SYRIZA for not joining a “national negotiating team.”
In a written statement issued after Samaras was sworn in, SYRIZA said the new government would not be able to renegotiate the country’s loan deal, noting that the administration had been “built on the basis of continuing the policies of the memorandum,” a reference to the debt deal.
“The political balance within the government suggests that it is not willing or able to strive for an essential renegotiation of the terms of the debt deal nor to challenge the dominant neo-liberal austerity policies within a Europe that is trying to change its architecture,” the statement added.
Sources told Kathimerini that Greece will be aiming to convince the troika to give it two more years, until 2016, to reduce its public deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product. This, however, would require Greece’s lenders to provide an extra 16-20 billion euros in loans. The exact amount of funding depends on how deep this year’s recession will be. It had been forecast at 4.5 percent of GDP by the troika but is now likely to reach between 6 and 7 percent.
This issue will be raised by Zannias at Thursday’s Eurogroup meeting. Zannias is likely to be questioned about the measures, or prior actions, that Greece had agreed to as part of its second bailout in February.