New Cabinet tailored to meet economic targets

At the unusual hour of 1.30 a.m. yesterday, the PASOK government announced its long-awaited reshuffle, which aims to bolster the core team of ministers and deputies responsible for ensuring Greece meets its economic targets but which also creates a much larger government that includes a wider range of party members. After protracted late-night negotiations, government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis announced that the new Cabinet would have 48 members rather than the previous 36. Apart from the creation of two new ministries, it means the introduction of 17 new members into the government, the appointment of three new ministers, the transfers of four ministers and the ousting of just one, Katerina Batzeli from Agricultural Development. It seems Prime Minister George Papandreou’s main aim was to strengthen the personnel that will deal with the country’s economic and financial policy over the next few months. Giorgos Papaconstantinou remains as finance minister and the key player in the government’s efforts to tackle its debt and deficit problems and meet the targets it has been set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. However, Papaconstantinou’s brittle relationship with Louka Katseli meant that the latter was shifted from the Economy Ministry to the Labor Ministry. Her previous department has now been split into the Regional Development Ministry, which will be headed by Michalis Chrysochoidis, and the Maritime Affairs Ministry, led by newcomer Yiannis Diamantidis. Chrysochoidis will have the task of leading the government’s efforts to revive the economy and bring about growth. Although he will also be expected to boost investments, State Minister Haris Paboukis has also been charged with a similar task. It is not clear how their responsibilities in this area will be differentiated. In another key move, Andreas Loverdos, who had the task of pushing through pension reforms as labor minister, has moved to the Health Ministry, where he will be expected to cut wasteful spending. It was also Papandreou’s personal wish that his close aide, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis, should be placed in charge of coordinating the government’s work. One of the main criticisms of PASOK has been that too many of its ministers failed to toe the line or were too ineffective in implementing policy. It is not clear how Ragousis’s role will tie in with that of Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, who since last October has had the task of overseeing ministers’ efficiency. In fact, it appears that there is substantial confusion over the tasks that ministers and their deputies will have in the new Cabinet. For example, there are now seven alternate ministers rather than two in the previous setup, and it is not clear whether they will have specific tasks or whether they will be subject to instructions from their ministers.