Greece: Socialists handed key posts in new cabinet, finance minister unchanged

ATHENS, Greece – Members of Greece’s minority Socialist party were handed key posts in a cabinet reshuffle Monday, following a political crisis over the decision by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to shut state broadcaster ERT.

Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist Pasok party, was named deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Venizelos, as finance minister, led tough negotiations in 2011 with its international creditors.

Samaras’ year-old government narrowly avoided collapse after he ordered ERT’s closure on June 11. Coalition member Democratic Left quit the government last week. The two-party coalition government now has a slender majority in parliament; it controls 153 seats of the 300 seats.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras remained in his position to push through more austerity measures and wide-ranging economic reforms.

Greece still faces some of its toughest reforms since being bailed out three years ago by other its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund, who have already paid out most of the 240 billion euros ($314 billion) in the rescue loan program. ERT’s closure was triggered in part by Greece’s pledge to fire 15,000 public sector employees by the end of next year.

The Socialists, who had no prominent members in the previous cabinet, have seen their support continue to plummet since the 2012 general elections, with some surveys projecting that its popularity has dropped to as low as 6.5 per cent.

Pasok, along with Samaras’ New Democracy, have dominated the Greek political scene for decades but it’s the Socialists that have lost the most support since the debt crisis exploded soon after its election victory in 2009, when it won 43.9 per cent of the vote. By 2012, Pasok’s support had sunk to 12.3 per cent against New Democracy’s 29.7 per cent, which was itself down on 2009’s 33.5 per cent.

Other senior Socialist officials were granted top posts: Michalis Chrysochoidis becomes transport minister, while Yiannis Maniatis takes the energy brief.

The number of ministries in Samaras’ cabinet was increased from 17 to 19 — with the portfolios of culture and merchant marine being upgraded.

One of the main issues confronting the government is how to transition ERT to a new public broadcaster. Former newspaper editor and government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis has been given that responsibility.

State TV and radio signals remain blank, while fired ERT employees are continuing unauthorized broadcasts that are being streamed on the Internet.

The government can stay in power for another three years and will hope that in that time, the country will start to recover from what a deep recession that’s sent unemployment to over 27 per cent. The government is predicting economic growth next year, by which time the economy will be around 25 per cent smaller than it was when the recession started in 2008.

Senior members of the Democratic Left party, which abandoned the coalition Friday, are due to meet later in the week to determine whether to offer the government partial support in parliament.

The new cabinet is due to be sworn in Tuesday.