Some surprises in Papandreou’s new team

A few hours after being sworn in as Prime Minister, George Papandreou unveiled his first Cabinet yesterday, presenting a relatively young and inexperienced lineup that was peppered with some party heavyweights. Papandreou has trimmed the number of ministries from 16 to 14 and the number of deputy ministers has been limited to 21, plus two alternate ministers. Of the 37 people making up the government, 24 have no previous ministerial experience. Also, nine members of the government are women, which is a very large proportion by Greek standards. The youngest member of the government is 39 and the oldest is 60. At about 7.30 p.m., PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou announced the names of the 14 new ministers and their deputies, causing some surprise in the process. The first unexpected move was the creation of the post of deputy prime minister, which was last seen in the governments of Andreas Papandreou, George’s father, in the 1980s. This position is to be filled by PASOK veteran and former minister Theodoros Pangalos, an outspoken Socialist heavyweight. In his position, Pangalos will be responsible for coordinating the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) and the Economic and Social Council (OKE). His presence in the government is seen by many as a counterbalance to the influence of Evangelos Venizelos, who Papandreou named as defense minister. Venizelos unsuccessfully challenged Papandreou for the PASOK leadership in 2007 and some expected him to be marginalized. However, by giving Venizelos a relatively high-profile ministry, it appears Papandreou wants to draw a line under previous internal party differences. One of Venizelos’s close allies, Athens MP Andreas Loverdos, was also given a prominent portfolio at the Labor Ministry. However, Papandreou also awarded some of the top positions to his close allies. Papaconstaninou was made minister in the newly separated Finance Ministry. Louka Katseli was given the job of economy minister. Yiannis Ragousis, a former party spokesman, was put in charge of the Interior Ministry, no longer responsible for public order matters. These have been transferred to the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, which will be headed by the experienced Michalis Chrysochoidis, who has served as public order minister in previous governments. Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou and Haris Paboukis, also close allies of Papandreou, were made health minister and state minister respectively. Among the few experienced officials are Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis, who served in PASOK administrations in the 1980s, and the head of the newly created Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Ministry, Dimitris Reppas, a previous minister and government spokesman. Another close Papandreou associate, Tina Birbili, was appointed to the Environment Ministry after the head of the Ecologists Greens, Nikos Chrysogelos, turned down an offer to take up the position. As strife divides ND, contenders for party leadership plan their strategies As recriminations and backstabbing continued for a second day yesterday amid the ranks of the ousted conservatives, the three main likely contenders for the post of New Democracy party president, relinquished by former Premier Costas Karamanlis on Sunday night, were said to be in back-to-back talks with advisers ahead of an extraordinary party conference, reportedly scheduled for November 7 and 8, when members are to vote for a new leader. Dora Bakoyannis, Antonis Samaras and Dimitris Avramopoulos, the former ministers of foreign affairs, culture and health respectively, were all said to be discussing strategy and internal alliances and were expected to hear also the opinion of local authority officials affiliated to ND and members of the party’s youth arm. Meanwhile there was speculation about fresh contenders for the leadership of strife-riven ND. Sources said that some party cadres had formed factions backing former Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis and former Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos as possible challengers. Neither of the two made any comments to indicate their intentions one way or the other yesterday. The only prospective candidate to declare his objectives yesterday was outspoken Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis who said he would declare his candidacy once the dates of the party conference are officially confirmed. He said he aimed to «give a voice to the party’s grass roots.»