New Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Friday pledged to combat poverty and unemployment in the crisis-hit country in a battle “for Europe itself.”
“We must all contribute to the fight against the scourges of poverty and unemployment,” Pavlopoulos, a 64-year-old professor of constitutional law and former conservative minister, told reporters after his investiture.
After a six-year recession, Greece last year had a jobless rate of 26.4 percent and a poverty rate of 23.1 percent, according to the state statistics agency.
“The fight being waged by Greece is not just for its people, it is for Europe itself,” France-educated Pavlopoulos said.
“Sadly, the crisis has caused Europe to take steps backwards in recent years,” he said.
A staunch pro-European, Pavlopoulos was elected to a five-year term by a wide parliamentary majority last month.
He was handpicked by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose radical left government is trying to negotiate a new austerity-free economic blueprint with its international creditors, amid resistance from Germany and other eurozone nations.
Pavlopoulos’ candidacy puzzled some within the ruling Syriza party, as his career has not been entirely devoid of controversy.
As interior minister from 2004 to 2009, Pavlopoulos was criticised for filling thousands of public sector jobs with friends and supporters of the conservative New Democracy party.
His reputation was bruised again by youth riots that broke out on his watch in 2008 after a 15-year-old Greek pupil was fatally shot by police in Athens.
More recently, the mild-mannered Pavlopoulos was criticised for not lifting a finger to help a female Communist lawmaker, who was struck in the face by a neo-Nazi politician during a morning talk show in 2012.
But supporters applaud Pavlopoulos’s diplomatic finesse and legal expertise.