Minister pays for heralding his retirement

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday demanded, and received, Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos’s resignation, eight days after the minister said that he would retire from politics at the next elections – which are due by early 2004. Papadopoulos, one of the government’s leading reformers, had announced, in the interview with Kathimerini on June 2, his decision to retire, but that he would like to stay on to complete his work at the Health Ministry. The choice of his replacement, Costas Stefanis, a professor of psychiatry, however, cast serious doubt on how far health reforms would go – the greatest opposition to Papadopoulos’s reforms had come from professors of medicine who rejected a new law prohibiting them from working both in state hospitals and private clinics. Simitis was on his way to China for an official visit when Papadopoulos made his announcement, without consulting him. «We had a very full and frank discussion,» Papadopoulos said after leaving the PM’s office yesterday. «The prime minister asked for my resignation and I submitted it… I will continue to carry out my duties as a member of Parliament and as a member of PASOK until the end of this Parliament’s term.» Papadopoulos’s desire to stay on as health minister was undermined by the furor that followed his desire to retire, which was read as a vote of no confidence in the government. Yesterday, he reportedly emphasized to Simitis that his decision was purely personal. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas, however, said: «A minister’s personal affairs are politically important and the way they are handled has political consequences.» New Democracy party parliamentary spokesman Prokopis Pavlopoulos remarked, «The Simitis government is falling apart: First it lost its political way and now it is starting to lose its ministers. One wonders what is left of Simitis’s reforms.» Papadopoulos, 53, was appointed health minister in April 2000. Before that he served as interior minister, reorganizing the country’s municipal map, and, before that, as finance minister, helping push the country toward the eurozone. Among his reforms at the Health Ministry, which he described as a place where «thousands of small and large interests feed like piranhas off the body of our country’s public health system,» was the bill «The improvement and modernization of the National Health System,»  which allowed for the creation of 17 regional health systems across the country, the appointment of hospital managers, the functioning of state hospitals in the afternoons as well as mornings, the lifting of permanent status for doctors of the national system, the prohibition on university doctors working both in the state and private health systems. Papadopoulos also passed legislation streamlining and controlling hospital procurements and establishing supervisors for the health system. Costas Stefanis, 74, is a personal friend of the prime minister. He served as an unelected deputy of the PASOK party in 1996-2000. He was made a professor at Athens University in 1970. He also heads the board of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center.