Tsipras unveils anti-austerity cabinet

Greece’s new SYRIZA-led coalition government was sworn in on Tuesday with economist Yanis Varoufakis taking the crucial post of finance minister in a slimmer cabinet including members of the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), notably party leader Panos Kammenos.

The new cabinet has 10 ministers, compared to the 22 of outgoing Premier Antonis Samaras, but a generous number of deputy and alternate ministers brings the total size of the cabinet to 41 compared to 47 in the previous government. The cabinet is to convene for its first session on Wednesday at 10.30 a.m.

The overhaul involved the merging of some ministries – with the creation of a Ministry of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism, to be led by another economist Giorgos Stathakis, for instance – and the creation of new ministries, notably one that will focus on combating corruption, to be headed by the former head of Greece’s anti-money laundering agency, Panayiotis Nikoloudis.

Aides to Tsipras indicated that the overhaul was the first step in a necessary renewal of the Greek state.

The premier kept his staunchest advisers close to him, with Nikos Pappas, his chief of staff, appointed minister of state. Alekos Flambouraris, another close aide to the leftist leader, was given the new post of minister of state for coordinating government operations; he is to be flanked by a deputy, Terence Quick from ANEL.

Veteran leftist Yiannis Dragasakis, a founder of SYRIZA and the only frontline member of the leftist party with experience in government, was appointed deputy prime minister and is to oversee the implementation of economic policy and talks with Greece’s international creditors.

The post of foreign minister went to Nikos Kotzias, an academic with experience in affairs of foreign policy, with Nikos Voutsis heading the renamed Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction. Panayiotis Lafazanis, a key member of SYRIZA’s radical Left Platform, is to handle the expanded Ministry for Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy.

Outgoing party spokesman Panos Skourletis took the job of labor minister, with two deputies given unemployment and social solidarity portfolios.

The government spokesman will be Gavriil Sakellaridis, the leftist’s runner-up to Giorgos Kaminis in last year’s Athens mayoral contest.

ANEL’s limited presence in the coalition had been agreed early on, sources indicated. Kammenos’s one chief request was to be granted the Defense Ministry. Apart from Quick, ANEL has two more deputies in the cabinet: Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha as deputy minister for Macedonia-Thrace and Elena Kountoura as alternate tourism minister under Stathakis’s “super-ministry.”

As Tsipras’s cabinet prepares to get to work, drafting legislation that revokes many of the changes enforced at the behest of Greece’s troika of creditors, the country’s eurozone peers appear to be maintaining a firm but patient stance. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a letter of congratulations to Tsipras, wishing him “much strength and success.” She added, however, “You are taking office in a difficult time in which you face great responsibility.” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also emphatically reiterated that a debt writedown – one of SYRIZA’s top priorities – is out of the question.

Earlier this week, eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels said they were prepared to talk to the new government regarding its economic program but ruled out talks on debt relief. Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who on Monday warned Greeks against high expectations for radical changes in economic policy, is due in Athens on Friday.

One of the next tasks for the SYRIZA government is to put forward a candidate for president who will face a vote once Parliament reconvenes. There was a flurry of speculation on Tuesday that the government’s candidate for president would be former conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. However, sources close to the former and current premier denied rumors that the two men had spoken and arranged to meet in the next few days. At the same time, though, neither side is ruling out the possibility of the man who governed Greece between 2004 and 2009 being nominated to be the country’s next president.

Greece’s representative at the European Commission, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is the other potential nominee for the ceremonial post. If he is to be chosen, this would free up his spot in Brussels to be taken by a SYRIZA candidate, possibly one of the party’s MEPs, Dimitris Papadimoulis.