Ministry swap halts talk of reshuffle as reforms eyed

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday appointed Nikos Dendias as defense minister, replacing outgoing Dimitris Avramopoulos, who assumes the European Commission’s immigration portfolio next week, with Costas Skrekas to take over Dendias’s spot at the helm of the Development Ministry.

The head swap doused speculation about Samaras assuming the crucial post of defense minister himself, with sources indicating that a widely rumored broader reshuffle was also off the table. Samaras is said to have rejected proposals to undertake the top spot at the Defense Ministry so that he can devote his full attention to crucial negotiations with Greece’s troika of international lenders as Athens presses for an early disengagement from the memorandum.

Dendias, 55, is close to Samaras and is widely regarded as an experienced conservative lawmaker able to handle the pressure of the critical defense portfolio at a time of rising tensions in the broader region. Skrekas, a 41-year-old New Democracy MP for Trikala in central Greece, is less experienced but has very close ties to Samaras and the premier’s inner circle. Both men are to be sworn in to their new posts on Monday.

Commenting on Friday after being informed of his appointment by Samaras, Skrekas said his chief priority would be to boost growth in the Greek economy, which remains sluggish although a gradual upturn, of 0.6 percent, is forecast for this year. Skrekas will be plunged in at the deep end when troika mission chiefs arrive in Athens to discuss a range of pending economic reforms. Teams of technical staff are due in Athens next week with the mission chiefs to follow, possibly as early as the end of next week, and resume their latest audit of Greek finances.

One of the contentious issues Skrekas must discuss with the troika is how to deal with billions of euros in nonperforming corporate loans held by Greek lenders.

Outgoing Development Minister Dendias is to submit a legislative proposal for corporate NPLs in Parliament on Monday before he is sworn in to his new post.

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