PM tells cabinet to focus on reforms, unity

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Tuesday appealed to his new cabinet – comprising only conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK ministers following the withdrawal of Democratic Left – to focus on accelerating delayed reforms and projecting an image of political stability, which he described as “more crucial than ever.”

Following a swearing-in ceremony officiated by Archbishop Ieronymos, Samaras convened his cabinet, delivering a brief address that was broadcast live on private television channels and during which he emphasized the importance of improved coordination between ministries. Insisting that the government was committed to completing the four-year term it started as a three-party coalition last summer, Samaras said there was “not a minute to lose” and appealed to his ministers to overcome their differences for the greater good.

The immediate priority is the completion of negotiations with troika officials who are due back in Athens on Saturday so that the next tranche of rescue funding can be clinched, Samaras said. Other goals include continuing efforts to achieve a primary surplus this year, curbing unemployment and avoiding the imposition of new measures, he said.

After the cabinet meeting, Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras met with Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis to discuss the major reforms pending in their sectors. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Stournaras echoed Samaras, telling reporters, “We have to make up for lost time.”

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who assumed the dual post of foreign minister and deputy premier, said his party and ND were determined to “proceed together with stability and decisiveness.” Venizelos said officials of the two parties were working on updating the government’s policy program.

The government consists of 42 ministers and deputy ministers, with 19 new faces compared with the previous cabinet, from which 17 members departed. There are only four women in the new government and three-quarters of its ministers and deputy ministers are from New Democracy. There are nine ministries where ND and PASOK officials will have to work together.

Two of the key posts, health and administrative reform, have been filled by newcomers. Mitsotakis, a 45-year-old New Democracy moderate, carries the hopes of the government for reform in the public sector. The son of former party leader and Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis will have little time to settle into his job as Greece has to confirm 2,000 public sector sackings and place another 12,500 civil servants in a mobility scheme over the next few weeks so it can receive approval from the troika for the release of the next bailout tranche of 8.1 billion euros. Outgoing Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis warned Mitsotakis not to make any “hasty and punishing moves.”

Georgiadis, best known for his vociferous appearances on TV panels, pledged on his arrival at the Health Ministry that he “did not have much to say.” Outgoing Alternate Minister Marios Salmas insisted that great strides had been made to reduce healthcare spending, with the outlay on medicines falling from 4 billion euros in 2011 to 2.4 billion this year and the deficit at main healthcare provider EOPYY being slashed by 1.5 billion euros. EOPYY, however, continues to be over budget and tackling this will be one of Georgiadis’s main tasks.

SYRIZA expressed doubt over whether the government would see out its four-year term and said that it had been constructed from the “worn material” of Greece’s two-party system. “The new government is determined to close hospitals and schools, to privatize every public firm of strategic importance, and to further reduce wages and pensions,” the opposition party said in a statement.