New Greek government takes office

Published: 19/06/2011 05:00



Greece’s new government lead by Prime Minister George Papandreou was sworn in Friday, shortly after a broad reshuffle made 20 months since the socialist ruling party took office amidst an acute debt crisis.

President Karolos Papoulias, who attended the inauguaration ceremony, expressed confidence that the new cabinet will lead debt-ridden Greece out of its crisis.

The shake- up of the cabinet, which now includes members with more popular profiles, aims to calm strong reactions to a difficult austerity and reform program launched last year and to accelerate necessary changes to avoid economic collapse.

The reshuffle came after a seven-hour meeting between Socialist lawmakers and Papandreou on Thursday, at which they demanded that the prime minister remove inexperienced loyalists from the Cabinet and replace them with more experienced party veterans, mostly in their late-50s.

The new government was scheduled to hold a first meeting chaired by Papandreou later Friday and a three-day debate in parliament was due to start Sunday ahead of a vote of confidence on Tuesday.

Evangelos Venizelos, who served as defense minister in the previous cabinet and in many key posts in past administrations, was appointed finance minister and deputy prime minister.

Venizelos, Papandreou’s long-time rival, has good relations with many PASOK deputies who have voiced objections to the measures. The deputies, along with opposition parties and labor unions, have argued that cuts in salaries and tax hikes worsen the recession and could trigger social upheaval.

The ruling party holds a slim five-seat majority, as five MPs who rejected the measures have quit, dismissed or turned independent since autumn 2009, when Papandreou’s first cabinet was sworn in.

The first reactions of opposition parties indicate that the battle to fully implement the measures agreed to with EU/IMF lenders, will continue.

The parties spoke of a “recycling of aides and wrong policies” that will lead to a dead end and criticized the prime minister for failure to reach an agreement on a national consensus grand coalition on Wednesday.

Papandreou on the other hand has repeatedly stressed that he does not intend to backtrack on the introduction of painful measures, arguing that there are no easy alternatives.

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