ATHENS: Greece’s freshly-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras unveiled his new cabinet on Tuesday, giving the crisis-hit country’s key finance portfolio back to Euclid Tsakalotos, a leftwing economist determined to keep Greece in the euro.
The 55-year-old Oxford-educated Tsakalotos faces the thankless task of steering a slew of unpopular economic reforms agreed by Tsipras with Europe’s leaders in July, in return for Greece’s third financial rescue in five years.
The new cabinet, announced by its spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili, is largely a carbon-copy of Tsipras’ outgoing leftwing government.
The boyish charismatic leader resigned in August after only seven months in office when anti-euro hardliners in his Syriza party rebelled over the much-maligned financial rescue, stripping him of his majority.
But Tsipras confounded his critics, romping to a clear reelection victory on Sunday. Five seats short of a majority in the 300-member parliament, he once again formed a coalition with his ‘odd couple’ partner of the previous government: the nationalist Independent Greeks party.
Panos Kammenos, who heads the rightwing party, was once again given the defence portfolio.
Nikos Kotzias returns to the foreign ministry and the key migration portfolio remains in the hands of Ionnis Mouzalas within the new government, which has 16 ministers and 30 deputy ministers, but only four women including the spokeswoman.
Tsakalotos was appointed as finance minister in July, taking over from outspoken maverick economist Yanis Varoufakis, the ‘bete noire’ of eurozone leaders.
A staunch supporter of Greece remaining in the eurozone, Tsakalotos is said to have won the esteem of his European Union peers during talks on the controversial 86-billion-euro ($97 billion) rescue deal.
Tsipras, whose Syriza party was elected in January on an anti-austerity plank, has said he finally agreed to the harsh belt-tightening measures set by the cash-for-reform agreement in order to keep Greece in the euro.
The 41-year-old premier had vowed to have the government up and running before he heads to Brussels on Wednesday to join EU leaders for talks on the migrant crisis.
Topping his agenda is the need to push through as quickly as possible the painful austerity measures demanded by Greece’s EU-IMF creditors, in order to boost growth and to enhance Athens’ credibility in foreign eyes.
This hopefully in a second stage would allow the Tsipras administration to achieve its goal of opening negotiations to reduce Greece’s whopping debt.
In a statement sent to Agence France-Presse, the IMF said it was looking forward to working with the new government.
“We welcome the completion of the electoral process in Greece and look forward to working with the new government on the policies needed to put Greece on a path for sustainable growth.”
In the new cabinet, implementation of the cash-for-reforms package, which will affect everything from the price of bread to a visit to the doctor, will be in the hands of Georges Chouliarakis, who helped negotiate the contested rescue package.
In his second mandate, Tsipras also hopes to strengthen Syriza’s leftwing credentials by fighting the systemic corruption and cronyism that has tainted Greek political life for decades, while tackling the migrant crisis with more efficiency and humanity.
Debt-strapped Greece has been the first port of call for some 310,000 refugees from war and persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere this year, but almost all have moved on to seek a new life in more prosperous economies to the west.
Some 4,000 migrants riding flimsy vessels from Turkey wash up on the Greek islands every day, yet shelter for no more than an estimated 2,000 people is available in struggling Greece, with entire families left to sleep outside with little access to basic hygiene, food or transport.
In Brussels, Tsipras is expected to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who has wasted no time in reminding Athens to move ahead with economic reform, bluntly saying: “There’s a lot of work ahead and no time to lose.”
The clock is ticking, with a review due in late October by the lenders on whether Athens is abiding by the reform program. At stake for the new government will be the release of a new three-billion-euro tranche of aid.