Tsipras readies cabinet, urges EU aid on migrants after election win
Freshly re-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras worked Tuesday on the makeup of a coalition cabinet to steer unpopular economic reforms as he urged Europe’s help with the thousands of migrants landing daily on Greek shores.
Sworn into office Monday a day after his re-election victory and moving swiftly to kick off a slew of controversial economic reforms, Tsipras “will probably announce the makeup of the government on Wednesday morning,” government spokesman Rodolphos Moronis told AFP.
Outgoing interior minister Nikos Voutsis had said late Monday that the new government, expected to be a carbon copy of Tsipras’ outgoing team, could be unveiled as early as late Tuesday.
The charismatic young premier, who romped to victory despite a much-maligned cash-for-reforms deal in July with Greece’s international creditors, has vowed to have the government up and running before he joins EU leaders for talks on the migrant crisis in Brussels on Wednesday.
Topping the left-wing government’s 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.
The coming weeks will see tax hikes across the board and pension reforms as well as painful measures that are expected to rile the country’s key farming lobby.
In his second mandate, the 41-year-old premier also hopes to strengthen the credibility of his radical left Syriza party 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 life in more prosperous economies to the west.
Some 4,000 migrants riding tiny vessels from Turkey wash up on Greek islands a day, yet shelter for no more than an estimated 2,000 people is available in struggling Greece, with entire families left to sleep out with little access to basic hygiene, food or transport.
“If everyone looks to one’s own yard when we have a common home, things will be ominous,” Tsipras said in post-election remarks.
– ‘Odd couple’ coalition –
Analysts expect to see finance in the hands of Euclid Tsakalotos, who took over the portfolio in July after the resignation of Yanis Varoufakis and who is believed to have won the esteem of his EU peers during negotiations leading up July’s 86 million euro ($97 billion) rescue of Greece, its third in five years.
Implementation of the cash-for-reforms package, which will affect everything from the sale of a loaf of bread to a visit to the doctor, will likely be in the hands of Georges Houliarakis, also involved in the negotiations with the EU, while Georges Stathakis is expected to get the economy portfolio again.
The new government is also likely to see Tsipras return the defence portfolio to his “odd couple” partner in the coalition, Panos Kammenos, leader of the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party.
EU partners have wasted no time in reminding Athens to get down to work on the reforms set out in the rescue package, with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker bluntly saying: “There’s a lot of work ahead and no time to lose.”
The deal led to the resignation of anti-euro hardliners in the Syriza party, stripping the premier of his majority after seven months in office and triggering Sunday’s general election.
Despite the upset, Syriza took 35.46 percent of the vote on Sunday, close to an absolute majority of 145 seats in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Coalition partner ANEL provides another 10 lawmakers.
“Syriza proved too tough to die,” said Tsipras, the country’s youngest premier in 150 years and the EU’s first radical left leader in office.
But the clock is ticking, with a review due in late October by the lenders on whether Athens is abiding by the reform programme. At stake for the new government will be the release of a new three-billion-euro tranche of aid.