New claims force Magginas out

Vassilis Magginas became on Saturday the third conservative employment and social security minister to lose his job in less than four years following allegations that he has built a home illegally on the outskirts of Athens. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis accepted Magginas’s resignation following the report in the Cosmos tou Ependiti weekly newspaper. Former Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia has been lined up to replace Magginas and is due to be sworn in today. Karamanlis and his close aides were quick to emphasize that the removal of Magginas would not lead to any letup of the government’s efforts to reform Greece’s creaking pension system. «It is the stable and unchanging position of the government that pension reform should continue, without any half-measures, for the benefit of Greek citizens and the viability of the social security system,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. The newspaper report on Saturday claimed that Magginas’s home in Koropi, northeast of Athens, had been built in a forested area with a permit that only allowed the construction of a snack bar. Magginas, 58, denied the allegations but it was the third report in two weeks to draw attention to the supposed transgressions of the ex-minister. The first suggested that his daughter was awarded a special contract so she could work for OTE telecom, thereby bypassing the usual process for hirings in the public sector. Then, last week, it was alleged that Magginas was employing uninsured migrants at his home in Koropi. In both cases, he denied any wrongdoing. However, the accumulation of the allegations proved too much for the minister to hold on to his Cabinet position. With the debate on the government’s 2008 budget starting in Parliament last night and set to run until midnight on Thursday, Magginas and the government would have been open to full-on assault from the opposition parties. Karamanlis and his advisers considered this to be too much of a risk to take. Magginas had led the conservatives’ drive to reform the pension system. He had, until recently, been seen as a safe pair of hands on what is proving to be a very tricky issue for the government to handle. However, following the barrage of allegations, it was felt within the Karamanlis camp that Magginas had lost too much of his moral authority to be able to continue with the pension reforms. Having procrastinated over the future of Magginas’s predecessor, Savvas Tsitouridis, Karamanlis was urged to take swift action this time. Magginas is the third employment minister to lose his job since March 2004, when New Democracy came to power. Tsitouridis stepped down in April at the height of the bond scandal. He had replaced Panos Panayiotopoulos, who was removed from office during a Cabinet reshuffle in February 2006. Now, former Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia will step into the hot seat at the Employment Ministry. Her appointment is thought to have a lot to do with the fact that Karamanlis worked closely with her at the Culture Ministry in the runup to the 2004 Athens Olympics and feels that he can trust her. Palli-Petralia was alternate culture minister from March 2004 to February 2006, when she was appointed tourism minister. The 64-year-old was not included in the Cabinet named by Karamanlis following the September general election. Karamanlis and Palli-Petralia met on the sidelines of yesterday’s parliamentary debate to discuss the task ahead. Survey indicates high rate of disapproval With pension reforms and strike action featuring at the top of the country’s daily political agenda, the results of a poll made public yesterday showed that a large of number Greeks are more pessimistic today than they were right after September’s national elections. The poll, prepared by Public Issue, found that 69 percent of Greeks believe that things «are not moving in the right direction» as opposed to 50 percent soon after the September 16 national elections. The popularity of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has also recently taken a hit, more so than during the summer’s devastating summer fires. Five in 10 respondents have a positive opinion of the conservative leader, down from 61 percent last month. On the other hand, PASOK leader George Papandreou has seen his popularity only slightly dip despite losing the elections, with 49 percent giving him a positive rating versus 51 percent previously. Questioned on which party is considered to be more able to run the country, just less that five in 10 said neither, while 28 percent and 19 percent replied New Democracy and PASOK, respectively.