By Andy Dabilis
New Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was sworn in on Friday (November 11th) along with a cabinet made up of holdover ministers from PASOK, New Democracy (ND) and the Right Wing LAOS party.
The new government, which was agreed on by former Prime Minister George Papandreou and ND leader Antonis Samaras, will be in place until elections, tentatively set for February.
Until then, Papademos will have to hold together a fragile coalition while trying to keep a lifeline of rescue loans coming. He will also need to convince protest-hardened Greeks to accept more austerity measures as the price of remaining in the Eurozone and keep the country from going bankrupt.
Topping the agenda for Papademos, 64, is pushing the terms of a second bailout package of 130 billion euros from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika through parliament.
Although the new deal will mean yet more austerity measures for financially exhausted citizens, it allows Greece to write off 50% of the debt it has accumulated despite a first bailout of 109 billion euros.
The new government brought a sigh of relief to EU and Eurozone leaders who had threatened to boot Greece out without a coalition in place.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Athens must move swiftly on the new agreement.
“It is important for Greece’s new government to send a cross-party message of reassurance to its European partners that it is committed to doing what it takes to set its debt on a steady downward path,” they said in a joint statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the government must co-operate with its disparate composition.
“We would like Greece to get on the right path as quickly as possible and we would like the reform efforts for a better and more efficient and consolidated Greece to have broad political support,” she said.
Papademos now heads a coalition, but not a unity government. Members of small groups in Greece’s splintered 300-member parliament — the Communists, the Radical Left SYRIZA and independents — are absent.
Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga said the coalition’s main goal was “to crush the popular movement shortly before the country goes bankrupt”.
PASOK MP Elena Panaritis said Papademos has the “technical knowledge” the country needs. “We can survive if we put party politics aside and concentrate on a rational plan for Greece,” she told SETimes.
But while Papademos was said to be the pick because of his political independence and reputation as a skilled technocrat, there is skepticism he is too closely aligned with the institutions that demanded austerity in return for the rescue loans.
“He’s a banker first and a Greek second,” Hellenic Center for European and International Analyses President Stavros Karkaletsis told SETimes. Papademos “is a guard of the system and he is going to continue Papandreou’s policies, which are against the poorest Greek citizens and society,” he added.
Papademos said he was confident he could keep Greece steady, although he — like Papandreou — will face stiff resistance from labour unions who have already set a strike for next week.
Papademos recognized the difficulties.
“The country is at a crucial crossroads,” he said. “I am not a politician, but I have exercised economic policy in Greece and Europe.”
George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens, told SETimes that Papademos “is the best choice right now because he’s very respected in Brussels and internationally.”
He said Papademos has another critical asset: “He will help reduce the credibility deficit that was one of the biggest problems for Greece.”
But he said the new leader will have to be careful to avoid losing public confidence as Papandreou did by pushing only austerity and not reforms and competitiveness.
“It was not the memorandum [with the Troika] that failed, but the policies of the previous government,” he said.