Top economist is appointed finance minister

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras Tuesday appointed Yannis Stournaras, a prominent economist, former government adviser and outgoing development minister in the caretaker government, to assume the tough post of finance minister, just a few days before a crucial European Union summit in Brussels where Greece?s debt deal with international creditors is expected to be discussed.

The 55-year-old economist is the director of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) and has served as adviser to socialist PASOK governments, including that of ex-Premier Costas Simitis, who clinched Greece?s entry into the eurozone. He also has an impressive academic background, serving as research fellow and lecturer at Oxford University and as economics professor at Athens University.

The appointment of Stournaras came a day after the original candidate for the role, National Bank of Greece Chairman Vassilis Rapanos, resigned, saying his health problems would not allow him to undertake the role. Rapanos, 65, was discharged from hospital, where he had been admitted last Friday with stomach pains and nausea.

Stournaras, for his part, pledged ?hard work? following talks last night at Samaras?s home — where the premier is recovering from eye surgery — with the three party leaders in the government coalition. Earlier in the day, speaking at a book presentation in central Athens, Stournaras appeared cautiously optimistic despite the challenges. ?I think there are possibilities for Greece to emerge from the crisis,? noting also that ?Greece has enormous potential.? Sources told Kathimerini that Samaras called him on his cell phone during the presentation to officially offer him the job.

It remained unclear when Stournaras would be sworn in, with outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zannias expected to represent Greece at the EU summit in Brussels Thursday and Friday as part of a delegation led by President Karolos Papoulias, who is replacing Samaras.

The appointment of Stournaras was not straightforward. He was Samaras?s favored candidate and ultimately was accepted by the PM?s coalition partners, socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis, but only after initial reservations, sources said. Both are said to have objected to Samaras?s preference for a technocrat instead of a senior cadre from conservative New Democracy, but conceded that Stournaras has the skills and experience required for the job.

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