NEWS

Riding the new government train – with 48 seats

There is something in the atmosphere at the swearing-in ceremony of every new government that makes the ministers and deputy ministers nervous and reserved right up until the moment they sign the protocol book, and makes the prime minister keep his distance (after all it was his decision who goes and who remains, and where) as well as showing the Archbishop in fine form! The President of the Republic, as always, keeps his cool, always rising to the occasion as befits his role as head of state as he congratulates and wishes the government well. Helbi has been to so many swearing-in ceremonies since the restoration of democracy in 1974 that she can say with all certainty that this second reshuffle since the re-election of Costas Simitis in April 2000 was similar to all the rest, even if the top ministers had simply moved to different seats, just like the game of musical chairs we used to play at children’s parties. The music stops, the children sit down and whoever is left standing is out of the game! This time, among those left standing was parliamentary deputy Theodoros Pangalos, who was compensated that same day by the joy of becoming a father again – to twin boys this time. The communication game was played by Archbishop Christodoulos, who officiated at the religious part of the ceremony and afterwards had something special to say to each of the new members of the government – loudly enough to be heard by all the journalists listening in. He embraced the new Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, Deputy Education Minister Eleni Kourkoula, and joked with Nikos Christodoulakis about the similarity between his own first name and the latter’s surname. Vasso Papandreou is now at the Environment and Public Works Ministry, the former fiefdom of Costas Laliotis. Yiannos Papantoniou has moved from the National Economy to the National Defence Ministry and Akis Tsochadzopoulos has gone from the Pentagon and the top brass to another economic ministry, the Development Ministry. No wonder neither looked particularly pleased. Those who fared best were those who kept their posts: George Papandreou at the Foreign Ministry, Michalis Chrysochoidis at Public Order, Petros Efthymiou at Education – with Eleni Kourkoula to lend a helping hand – Alekos Papadopoulos at Health and Christos Verelis at Transport. Who was worst off? Surely Costas Skandalidis, who went from the post of PASOK general secretary to the Interior Ministry. And spare a thought for poor Dimitris Reppas, who was transferred from the Press Office to the Labor Ministry, where he will now have to wrestle with the demanding issue of social security reforms. Tears flowed from his eyes as he handed his portfolio over to Christos Protopappas. There are now 48 passengers on the new Cabinet ‘train,’ plus the Prime Minister, all heading along the track to 2004! The United States says that it is fighting a war on two fronts: Stamping out the threat personified by Osama bin Laden and protecting its citizens at home – protecting the economy and the quality of life just as much as fighting the scourge of terrorism. But, as if we are looking through a microscope where the more we look the deeper we go into a troubled organism, we see that each front has many different fronts, which then subdivide further still in a geometric progression of hazards and confusion. And the more confusion we encounter, the more methodical and careful we have to become. This is exemplified by the anthrax attack, which seems to draw in greater and greater swaths of suspected victims as targets and evidence of the deadly spores pop up with increasing speed at the symbols of America – the White House, Congress, the news media, the State Department, the CIA. Expect them at the FBI, the Federal Reserve and anything else that might fit the pattern. So this front is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It demands vigilance and great, expensive measures to combat each real or suspected instance of the plague, while at the same time the American government says the people must remain calm and go about their business and that the economy must not suffer. Can this be done? In addition, measures must be taken to protect businesses that could be destroyed by the crisis and growth must be stimulated. Suddenly the tables are turned, as the Mecca of the free market now heralds a $100-billion stimulus plan that the Europeans denounce as protectionism. This war will change everything.