NEWS

Big names dominate long-awaited reshuffle that sets Dora Bakoyannis at center stage

Following a long gestation period, the composition of the new government was finally made public yesterday. The changes were not overly radical but neither were they particularly restrained. And, contrary to the whispers that have been reverberating in political corridors of late, the changes were rather on the level of ministers than deputies. The new Cabinet includes all the «big names» but lacks any sense of renewal. In view of the predominance of the phone-tapping scandal on the news agenda, attention has centered on the transfer of Giorgos Voulgarakis from the murky alleys of state security to the limelight of culture. In terms of the real substance of the leadership change, however, it would not be excessive to refer to «Dora’s reshuffle.» The relocation of the minister formerly responsible for public order is by no means a demotion. On the contrary, at such a critical time, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis did not only refrain from dismissing the vulnerable minister from his government but he gave him a portfolio in which to take refuge. The Culture Ministry post is not among those which exposes one to political risk. And more importantly, it offers an opportunity for Giorgos Voulgarakis to repair his tarnished public image. This is why he sought the move himself. The fact that his request was fulfilled is an indirect, but clear, confirmation that he has been backed by the prime minister in his handling of the phone-tapping scandal. As mentioned above, the crucial aspect of this reshuffle is the exultant vindication of Dora Bakoyannis’s blatant bid to claim the Foreign Ministry portfolio. Now she has effectively been nominated to an alternative center of power within the government with whom Karamanlis is obliged to negotiate, a fact which will directly influence the balance of power within New Democracy. Constantine Mitsotakis’s daughter is by far the most politically independent element of ND. Building on her father’s legacy, she has developed an extensive and intricate personal support network which extends beyond the party’s limits. In any case, her relationship with Karamanlis has always been rooted in rivalry. But this is not out of keeping with their current alliance. Her threatening image as rival as well as her value as ally are two sides of the same coin. Bakoyannis will not be a foreign minister who will simply realize the prime minister’s policies. She has already voiced opinions which do not oppose foreign policy so far but do not identify with it either. The new minister is expected to try to push through her policies to as great an extent as possible, relying on the support she enjoys from the USA. Keeping deputies Evripidis Stylianidis and Yiannis Valinakis in their posts will allow the prime minister to retain a modicum of control from the inside. A crucial question is whether the new defense minister will complement Bakoyannis or balance her out. Evangelos Meimarakis is regarded as one of «Karamanlis’s people» but he has also been in close consultation with Bakoyannis on matters of foreign policy. The less perceptible political aspect of this reshuffle is that the excessive influence of government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos has been threatened. Up until now, the Foreign Ministry’s representative Giorgos Koumoutsakos allowed Roussopoulos to have precedence on foreign policy matters, but it is not at all certain that this practice will continue with the spokesperson Bakoyannis will appoint. But this is a relatively minor concern. The new labor minister, Savvas Tsitouridis, has not forgotten that Roussopoulos played a key role in removing him from the Agriculturl Development and Food Ministry. Meanwhile, Vyron Polydoras, the new public order minister, is unlikely to pay much attention to advice. And of course, Meimarakis – now that he is a minister – gains new powers in his latent clash with Roussopoulos as he is unlikely to lose the influence on the state machine he enjoyed as party secretary. What all this means in practice is that more ministers will be unwilling to tolerate Roussopoulos’s supervision on the pretext of the need for a unified public relations front. The removal of Panos Panayiotopoulos from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security is a remarkable if shortsighted decision. Panayiotopoulos seems to have paid the price of trying to be a political counterweight to the national economy minister – a posturing that was less the result of personal antagonism and more of his attempt to protect New Democracy against protests by the society’s lower-income groups. After all, it was Panayiotopoulos who absorbed most of the strain from labor market reform. Finally, Dimitris Avramopoulos’s move to the Health Ministry seems rather wrong-headed. Avramopoulos was the right man for the Tourism Ministry – which does not seem to be the case for the much-tougher Health portfolio. Only time will show the success of yesterday’s reshuffle – whether it will succeed in correcting mistakes and omissions, in breathing a new spirit into a faltering government and repairing the damage done by the phone-tapping scandal.