PM seeks fresh start, unity with cabinet reshuffle

Prime Minister George Papandreou on Friday conducted a cabinet reshuffle in a bid to revitalize his tired government and boost unity within his party, moving Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos to the Finance Ministry to replace Giorgos Papaconstantinou, who has spearheaded Greece?s flagging austerity drive.

Addressing the inaugural session of his new Cabinet on Friday afternoon, Papandreou said the reshuffle had been necessary ?to signal a restart.?

Sources told Kathimerini that the reshuffle had been on the cards since last weekend but had been put on hold as the premier made a fourth attempt to secure a consensus with the main opposition party New Democracy.

Apart from gauging the response of Socialist lawmakers to the reshuffle, a vote of confidence scheduled to take place in Parliament Tuesday is expected to assess approval among MPs for the government?s midterm fiscal program, which is to be approved in Parliament before the end of this month.

Venizelos was broadly regarded as the significant appointment in a reshuffle that saw few new figures brought into the government and involved many ministers swapping portfolios and others being ousted.

Overall, the Cabinet was trimmed down to 42 people from 49.

The Socialist veteran, who challenged Papandreou for the leadership of PASOK in 2007, has also been appointed deputy prime minister alongside Theodoros Pangalos.

Venizelos said he was ready to undertake the ?historic challenge? of extracting Greece from its debt crisis. ?I am leaving defense to go where the real battle is,? he told a joint press conference with his predecessor Papaconstantinou.

Papaconstantinou, for his part, said he was ?extremely happy? to be handing over the task of reviving the country?s beleaguered economy to a colleague with ?experience and dedication.? Admitting that he had made ?mistakes and shortfalls? during his tenure as finance minister, Papaconstantinou said he was proud to have contributed to ?keeping the country on its feet and putting into motion a series of important economic reforms.?

Opposition parties slammed the reshuffle as a failed attempt to revive the beleaguered government?s fortunes.

The removal of Papaconstantinou from the post of finance minister amounted to an admission by the government that its economic policy had failed, said ND spokesman Yiannis Michelakis.

The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) said no reshuffle could stop ?the government sliding into complete collapse? while the Communist Party described the new administration as ?dangerous.?

All the parties will have the chance to voice their opinions in Parliament from tomorrow, when a debate will begin ahead of Tuesday?s vote.

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