NEWS

Senior source says Cabinet reshuffle is due ‘at any moment’

Now in office 15 months, the New Democracy government is moving ahead with reforms in its first real phase of implementing policy. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his staff hope to transcend the variety of internal problems that have been plaguing the government. Karamanlis is also carefully considering changes to the government’s structure and functioning – changes that seem to be imminent, despite official assurances to the contrary. For example, an agreement reached last Wednesday between the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE)’s management and staff unions led to a sigh of relief in the prime minister’s office. It was the first time in recent memory that the government had regained the upper hand politically. It paid off as public relations, too. The same applied to the agreement between Agricultural Development and Food Minister Evangelos Bassiakos and the European Union committee that accepted Greece’s demand for a 38-drachma (0.1 euro)-per-kilo reimbursement for cotton farmers – and therefore an increase of about 15 million euros, politically important for the government’s relations with farmers who were instrumental in ND’s electoral victory in March 2004. «This shows that when we work together, for a specific goal, we are successful,» a leading minister said. This minister also said that the OTE agreement was the result of very good coordination between Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis and everyone else involved. The same source confirmed that the OTE accord has paved the way for improvements in other public corporations, especially those facing difficulties, such as the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) and the urban transport companies ISAP and ILPAP. Karamanlis wants government policy to be implemented as speedily as possible. He wants to make up for lost time, given the two-year deadline set by Brussels. He also recognizes that 2006 is a local election year, and the government is already under financial pressure from municipal and prefectural leaders seeking support from the ruling party. The Damoclean sword of EU deadlines is the major reason the prime minister has been hesitant about a radical government reshuffle. Sources say he worries about the adjustment period that is bound to follow such a reshuffle. But the prime minister has still evaluated the work of his entire Cabinet, particularly after numerous internal conflicts came to light. «We have now entered a phase in which a reshuffle can be expected at any moment,» says a high-ranking government official who meets frequently with Karamanlis. Karamanlis appears to be leaning toward a restricted reshuffle with just a few changes at the ministerial level and more changes at the deputy-ministerial level. However, a more radical shake-up cannot be ruled out, nor can ministry mergers or the creation of the post of deputy prime minister. The same sources say the plan will even change organizations at the regional level, where cooperation with related ministries is problematic.