From EU to Greece

With Greece’s presidency of the EU ending today, Prime Minister Costas Simitis is likely to soon unveil changes to his government and the ruling PASOK party’s Executive Bureau in an effort to close the gap with the New Democracy party. Opinion polls have consistently shown the conservatives enjoying a lead of around 8 percent and ND leader Costas Karamanlis yesterday reiterated a call he first made on Friday for early elections. The government repeated that elections will be held when the government’s mandate ends next spring. Simitis is to brief President Costis Stephanopoulos on the results of the six-month EU presidency today, before chairing a Cabinet meeting on the same subject. But he is expected to announce the changes when he returns from Strasbourg, where tomorrow he will present a summing-up of Greece’s tenure as EU president to a plenary session of the European Parliament. Simitis signaled a few weeks ago that domestic initiatives were in the offing, following Avriani newspaper’s claims that the government and senior party members were involved in shady dealings with a businessman, Athanassios Athanassoulis, with whom Avriani publisher Giorgos Kouris had a short-lived but very bitter falling-out. Although no one was found to have committed any crime, two members of the government were forced to resign, as was a member of PASOK’s Executive Bureau. Simitis last week commented on an EU presidency that was widely seen as successful. «How is is that when I am outside our borders I am OK and when I am inside I am terrible?» he asked with a wry smile. This weekend, he secluded himself in his country house at Aghioi Theodoroi to mull his next moves, sparking concern among PASOK officials, as there was no hint by any source near Simitis to signal what he was thinking. One rumor is of a radical change to the Cabinet, with a reduction in ministers and a ban on members of the Executive Bureau also taking part in government. Simitis is unlikely to seek a rupture with PASOK’s powerful secretary general, Costas Laliotis, following the latter’s furious reaction to such a suggestion. Key Cabinet members such as Foreign Minister George Papandreou, National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis will probably stay put.

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