Internal strife jolts government on return to work

The Cabinet will meet on Thursday as Greece seeks to pick up the pace of its reform program ahead of a visit by an inspection team representing its international lenders but the government is again being consumed by internal tension, evident from the firing on Wednesday of the general secretary at the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry.

Prime Minister George Papandreou is faced with the challenge of conducting policy on two distinct tracks. Firstly, the government has to get a grip on the country?s deteriorating economic health while convincing the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that it is forging ahead with the fiscal and structural reforms that have been agreed.

Meanwhile, Papandreou also has to address domestic concerns, which range from public dissatisfaction with the continuing austerity measures to the ideological battles going on within PASOK. Two key dates for the premier with respect to striking this domestic balance are PASOK?s congress on September 3 and his economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair on September 10.

The prime minister met on Wednesday with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos to discuss a schedule for the economic measures that have to be taken over the next few weeks but their talks were overshadowed by apparent turmoil within the government?s ranks.

It was announced that Transport Ministry general secretary Haris Tsiokas, a party stalwart from PASOK?s left wing, was being replaced by Aris Bourdaras, an official at the Public Administration Inspectorate. Although the reasons for Tsiokas?s dismissal were not made public, sources said that Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis had failed to develop a good working relationship with the official since taking over the department from Dimitris Reppas, with whom Tsiokas worked well.

Tsiokas is thought to have disagreed with Ragousis?s handling of the liberalization of the taxi profession and the two men often displayed differing interpretations of the issue when briefing journalists. Ragousis?s choice of successor is seen by many as a sign that the minister wants to combat corruption in his department, which is responsible for issuing a wide range of permits and licenses.