Technocrat takes office after frenetic negotiations

 

GREEK DEAL:GREECE’S TECHNOCRAT interim prime minister took office yesterday, after a final 24 hours of feverish negotiations between the new premier and the three coalition parties on the final distribution of cabinet seats brought an end to a two-week political crisis in the country.

Lucas Papademos, the country’s 11th premier since the restoration of democracy in 1974, heads the interim cabinet, which is dominated by Pasok MPs, but includes six officials from conservative New Democracy and four representatives from a rightist party.

Mr Papademos, two deputy premiers, 15 ministers, nine alternate ministers and 21 deputy ministers were sworn in on the Bible by the Orthodox archbishop of Athens at a ceremony that was delayed for two hours after outgoing prime minister George Papandreou battled behind the scenes to keep a key associate as foreign minister.

The position eventually went to New Democracy vice-president and former European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.

The conservatives also took the key ministry of defence, which went to Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is also a deputy leader of the party.

Chairing his first cabinet meeting, Mr Papademos, a former Greek and European central banker, requested the co-operation and solidarity from all his ministers and said that the main task of the government was the ratification of Greece’s new €130 billion bailout deal and the implementation of the decisions taken at the October 27th euro zone meeting.

“We have a difficult period ahead of us in which to carry out a difficult task and the contribution of all is necessary,” the prime minister said, stressing that the country must secure an €8 billion payment under its existing bailout programme and rebuild the country’s credibility.

Mr Papademos is expected to outline his government programme on Monday, which will be followed by a confidence vote later in the week.

The key post of finance has remained in the hands of Evangelos Venizelos, who stressed that Greece must carry out its pledges quickly so the euro zone’s finance ministers can unblock the €8 billion tranche on November 17th.

None of the leaders of the three coalition parties have taken cabinet posts, which will leave them free to prepare and campaign for the general election, tentatively scheduled for February 19th.

George Papandreou remains at the head of Pasok but is likely to face a leadership challenge soon.

With the inclusion of four representatives from the Popular Orthodox Rally (Laos), the Papademos administration sees the far-right participate in the country’s government for the first time since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.

“Laos is anti-immigrant and anti-minorities in its sentiment and its politics. That is the criterion of a far-right party,” said sociologist Miltos Pavlou, who heads the Athens-based Institute for Rights, Equality and Diversity.

For the new Laos ministers, the transformation from anti-establishment outsiders to responsible ministers may be a difficult one.

Now a deputy minister for shipping, Adonis Georgiadis, a Laos MP, has in the past advertised and endorsed a controversial Greek book called Jews: The Whole Truthon his television show broadcast on a channel set up by Laos’s leader.

The book has been described by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece as a “defamatory, anti-Semitic book in which Jews are called ‘subhuman’ and are directly threatened with annihilation”.