Tsipras forms government, plans new legislation

Alexis Tsipras was trying to form his first cabinet on Monday night after being sworn in as prime minister following his agreement with Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos to form a coalition government.

A number of Tsipras’s close allies are expected to take key roles in the new cabinet. One of his closest advisers, Nikos Pappas, is expected to become minister of state, with responsibility for coordinating the government’s efforts. SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis is expected to take over the Interior Ministry.

Yiannis Dragasakis, the only member of SYRIZA’s frontline team with experience in government, is expected to be named deputy prime minister but will have responsibility for overseeing the government’s economic team and possibly negotiations with the troika.

Prominent economist Yanis Varoufakis is due to take on the role of finance minister, with Euclid Tsakalotos as his deputy.

Another economist, Giorgos Stathakis, is expected to be put in charge of the Development Ministry, which will be enlarged to incorporate other departments that currently operate separately.

SYRIZA’s left wing, or Left Platform, will probably be represented in the government by Panayiotis Lafazanis, Dimitris Stratoulis and Nikos Hountis.

Rania Antonopoulou, the director of the Gender Equality and the Economy program at the Levy Institute, is expected to be appointed to the Labor Ministry, possibly as a deputy to Stratoulis.

The Independent Greeks party is expected to have one ministerial and up to four deputy ministerial positions in the new government. Party leader Kammenos is likely to be named as the new defense minister.

Sources at Independent Greeks told Kathimerini that the agreement between Tsipras and Kammenos was relatively straightforward. The right-wing party has agreed to back SYRIZA’s economic policies, as set out by Tsipras at the Thessaloniki International Fair in September, as long as the new prime minister does not forge ahead with changes in areas where Kammenos’s party has objections. This includes foreign policy issues, such as reaching an agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on a composite name, which Kammenos disagrees with. SYRIZA has also agreed to put on hold any plans for a separation between the Church and state.

Kammenos gave the green light for SYRIZA to bring to Parliament as soon as possible the legislation it has prepared with the aim of implementing the pledges made in Thessaloniki. The first bill is expected to raise the minimum wage back to 751 euros and reintroduce regulations regarding collective wage bargaining.

The second draft law will focus on measures for taxpayers to be given better terms to repay overdue taxes and social security contributions. The bill foresees the new payment plans leading to no more than between 20 and 30 percent of taxpayers’ annual income going toward repaying their debts.

The new government also wants to pass legislation that will end the mobility scheme and evaluation process in the civil service. This will lead to some people who have lost their jobs as a result of these measures being rehired.

Other measures expected in the coming weeks are legislation that would allow some 300,000 households living under the poverty threshold to receive free electricity. Tsipras is also due to push for the reopening of public broadcaster ERT, which was shut down in June 2013.

SYRIZA and Independent Greeks have further agreed to form an investigative committee in Parliament to look into the circumstances that led to Greece being forced to sign its first troika bailout in 2010, including how the country’s debt spiraled.

After agreeing a deal with Kammenos, Tsipras visited Archbishop Ieronymos. Tsipras explained to the head of the Church of Greece that he did not want a religious swearing-in ceremony. Instead, he had a sparse civil ceremony at the Presidential Mansion.

“I think it would be good to get on with the process as we have an uphill task ahead,” Tsipras told President Karolos Papoulias before being sworn in.

After officially becoming prime minister, Tsipras visited the former rifle range at Kaisariani, where he laid flowers at a monument to more than 200 Greeks executed by Nazi occupiers in World War Two. Following that he went to Maximos Mansion to officially take over his duties but outgoing Premier Antonis Samaras was not present for the traditional handover. Instead, to the annoyance of SYRIZA officials, it was carried out by the head of Samaras’s prime ministerial office, Costas Bouras.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the world leaders to send the newly appointed premier a congratulatory telegram on winning the Sunday vote and offering to strengthen cooperation between the two countries. The telegram was passed on to Tsipras by Russian Ambassador Andrey Maslov during what was the leftist leader’s first meeting with a foreign envoy.

Meanwhile, during a telephone call with Nikos Anastasiades, president of Greece’s closest ally Cyprus, Tsipras confirmed Athens’s continued cooperation with Nicosia ahead of his visit to the Mediterranean island.

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker also called Tsipras to congratulate him, adding that he hoped the two would meet before the next EU summit.