NEWS

Simitis’s tailor-made Cabinet

The government reshuffle is by definition a decision for the prime minister, but this time he exercised absolute authority, surpassing even the leadership style of Andreas Papandreou in his heyday. Costas Simitis distributed the portfolios solely on the basis of his own criteria, meaning that he assumes entire responsibility, without recourse to any of the excuses used in the past. These criteria clearly bear the marks of party-political conflict. In other words, Simitis ruled out nearly all the cadres from the other side of the fence, thereby completing a process begun in 1996. Assigning Akis Tsochadzopoulos to the Development Ministry does not alter that impression. Simitis may have demoted him, but it was not in his interest to exclude him entirely, not only for the negative impression it would have created, but because he prefers Tsochadzopoulos as a rival within the party, seeing him as easy game. Thus he allowed Tsochadzopoulos to choose one of his own political friends (Christos Theodorou) as one of his three deputy ministers. Christos Papoutsis, however, was left out, not because he had failed as merchant marine minister, but because he had persisted with his criticisms. Simitis has never yielded to the temptation of making an impression, therefore he did not make sweeping changes. Removing tired Cabinet members and giving important portfolios to new figures would only have provoked opposition from within the party and thrown spanners in the government works. He preferred instead to transfer most of his leading ministers, keep others in the same positions, promote his close associates and bring in new faces among the deputy ministers. However, the fact that he brought back deputy ministers whom he had dismissed as failures in 2000 has given rise to adverse comment. The most impressive promotion was that of Nikos Christodoulakis, whose rise has been meteoric in recent years, not only due to his own unquestioned abilities, but to the prime minister’s favor, convincing many people that Simitis views Christodoulakis as his successor. The promotion of Christos Protopappas to the Press Ministry was a surprise in that it entails political risk, while posting Eleni Kourkoula to the Education Ministry produced a number of smirks. Giving responsibility for the Olympic Games preparations to a group of deputy ministers has also provoked comment, as has the transfer to the Defense Ministry of a civil department with no experience in national security. The most controversial issue, however, was the cold-blooded exclusion of Theodoros Pangalos because he did not comply with the prime minister’s recommendation that he not stand as candidate for the party’s Executive Bureau. Despite Pangalos’s warm support for him at the party congress, Simitis had not forgotten the public criticism by his former comrade-at-arms. Revenge is a dish that is best eaten cold. Dissenters dropped in the reshuffle Three ministers, one deputy minister (Elisavet Papazoe) and nine deputy ministers in the previous administration are not on the new Cabinet list. Christos Papoutsis, the former merchant marine minister and European commissioner, had made statements critical of the reformist bloc, particularly within the various PASOK committees. Therefore his stance toward the party leader from his place on the party’s Executive Bureau will prove to be exceptionally interesting. The removal of former Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos, one of the most controversial due to the dispute with the Church over the removal of the mention of religion from state identity cards, was only to be expected, as was that of Miltiades Papaioannou, the former labor minister. Only one of the former deputy ministers not on the new list actually left of her own accord: Milena Apostolaki, who asked to be relieved of her duties in order to stand for election, successfully, for the party’s Executive Bureau. Other deputy ministers who have lost their jobs are Costas Kaiserlis and Leonidas Zanis at the Interior Ministry, Dimitris Apostolakis at the Defense Ministry, Ilias Efthymiopoulos at the Public Works Ministry, Christina Spyraki at the Health Ministry, Nikos Farmakis at the Labor Ministry, Alekos Voulgaris at the Transport Ministry and Grigoris Niotis at the Foreign Ministry. The thirteen new faces For 13 members of the new Cabinet, it is their first time in such a ministerial post (including one minister, Stefanos Manikas, and 12 deputy ministers). State Minister Manikas was the secretary of PASOK’s youth wing between 1978 and 1984 and has been a Central Committee member since the party’s first congress. He was elected deputy of state for the first time in the September 1996 elections. Loukas Apostolidis, now Deputy Defense Minister, was first elected parliamentary deputy for Boeotia in November 1989. Deputy Transport Minister Spyros Vouyias is associate professor in the transport department of Thessaloniki University’s civil engineering faculty. He ran for the post of mayor of Thessaloniki in 1998, with the support of the Left Coalition. In April 2000, he was elected for the first time to Parliament in Thessaloniki’s first electoral district. Deputy Culture Minister Yiannis Kourakis was elected to Parliament for the first time in October 1993. Deputy Education and Religious Affairs Minister Eleni Kourkoula was a member of Rigas Ferraios, the youth wing of the Communist Party (Interior). She has worked as an actress and was elected to Parliament for the first time in April 2000. Deputy National Defense Minister Lazaros Lotidis was first elected in June 1989 as deputy for Kozani, Deputy Public Order Minister Vangelis Malesios in 1993 as deputy for Ioannina, and Deputy Health and Welfare Minister Hector Nasiokas in 2000 for Larissa. Rovertos Spyropoulos, deputy labor and social security minister, was elected deputy for Arcadia in 1996 and Lefteris Tziolas for Grevena in 2000, as was Elpida Tsouri for Chios. All hopes on projects, Olympics A few years ago, when Vasso Papandreou invited Costas Simitis, Theodoros Pangalos and Paraskevas Avgerinos to a secret dinner (at which it was decided to make Simitis the next prime minister), she is said to have also invited Costas Laliotis, who did not come. Just a few days ago, these two leading PASOK cadres received the same number of votes (147) in the party elections, Laliotis for the position of party secretary and Papandreou for the Executive Bureau. Now, Vasso Papandreou is being called upon to take over what was until yesterday Laliotis’s turf – the Environment and Public Works Ministry, along with all the obligations for the speedy completion of small and large public works, as well as those being built for the Olympic Games in 2004 which fall under the ministry’s jurisdiction. On the other hand, the prime minister has retained Evangelos Venizelos as Culture Minister, in view of what he sees as Venizelos’s successes in this sensitive sector in preparations for the Olympics. Opposition says no real changes, just a parade of the same faces By C.H. Fafoutis Kathimerini A recycling of faces is how the main opposition New Democracy party views the latest Cabinet reshuffle, claiming that the new government does not herald any real change either at the level of personalities or policy. ND officials believe the composition of the new Cabinet does not signify a genuine transformation and claim that the prime minister’s decisions dashed many of the hopes he had encouraged since last June. ND spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that only a few months ago, Simitis himself said his ministers were tired, only to announce the formation of a new Cabinet whose new ministers had been part of the old administration. Roussopoulos concluded that there was no question of a new beginning since nothing has changed nor is anything is about to change in the way the country is governed. The people’s problems cannot be solved by recycling faces (in the government), he said. Simitis took seven years to form his first government, which, it seems, won’t be his last, added ND’s Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Dora Bakoyianni commented that the reshuffle was an admission of failure on the party of the PASOK government’s policy. Giorgos Souflias also saw the same tired old faces in new suits who could not be expected to achieve what they had failed to achieve over so many years. Leading cadres of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) believe that the changes strengthened sectors that will play a more prominent role in the attempt to manipulate and buy people’s consciences. Left Coalition Chairman Nikos Constantopoulos said the prime minister was settling accounts on the basis of partisan connections, and advised him to change his government’s policy. Reform does not mean punishing (former Justice Minister Michalis) Stathopoulos for his position on the identity card issue or his objections to the European Union’s measures, he said. Old guard stay outside again PASOK’s internal opposition, along with the group affiliated to the late Giorgos Gennimatas, lost out most in Tuesday’s reshuffle. Following his call for a clear mandate at the party congress earlier this month, Prime Minister Costas Simitis chose not to give ministries to cadres who had either criticized him over the past year or who had been actively supportive of Akis Tsochadzopoulos, the former defense minister, in the period before the party congress. Simitis’s only concession was to appoint Christos Theodorou as deputy minister of the Development Ministry. The appointment of Theodorou, who is a close political associate of Tsochadzopoulos, only confirms the rule. Although the other deputy, Dimitris Georgakopoulos, is on good terms with Tsochadzopoulos, he is considered to have defected from George Papandreou’s camp. Lazaros Lotidis (Defense) and to a lesser extent Lefteris Tziolas (Labor and Social Security) have distanced themselves from Tsochadzopoulos over the past few months and have avoided criticism of the government’s work. Simitis’s decision to proceed with those who had supported him in recent months was a disappointment to parliamentary deputies such as Kimon Koulouris, Tsiokas and Adamopoulos who hoped for a portfolio if the prime minister decided to transcend PASOK’s divisions. The reshuffle was a blow to the Gennimatas group, as they had actively supported the prime minister prior to the congress. Miltiades Papaioannou was removed but so were other prominent cadres such as Cosmas Sfiriou and Fofi Gennimata. According to informed sources, this particular group were to hold a meeting Tuesday to determine their future stance. Other disappointed party cadres included a number of parliamentary deputies who had become politically identified with one or another party baron. Simitis entered into no negotiations regarding the new ministerial appointments so the barons had no opportunity to promote their own preferences.