Greek leader stresses need for stability

AP News
Posted: Jun 25, 2013 7:38 AM
Greek leader stresses need for stability

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed the need for stability and unity Tuesday, outlining his new cabinet's priorities following a broad reshuffle triggered by the latest political crisis.

The new cabinet, in which the prime minister handed key posts to the coalition government's minority Socialist party, was named Monday night and sworn in the following day.

Samaras' year-old coalition government narrowly avoided collapse after he ordered the sudden closure of the state broadcaster, ERT, on June 11, and the firing of all the company's 2,656 employees.

Coalition member Democratic Left pulled out of the government last week over the issue. The two-party coalition government now has only a slender majority in parliament, controlling 153 of the 300 seats.

"Stability is today more necessary than ever," Samaras told his ministers in the new cabinet's first meeting, held immediately after the swearing-in ceremony. "This government doesn't have a moment to lose."

The deep financial crisis Greece has been struggling through for the past three years has caused considerable political instability.

Samaras managed to cobble together an uneasy three-party coalition last year after two consecutive elections failed to produce a winner with enough parliamentary seats to govern alone.

The prime minister on Tuesday outlined the tasks ahead, with the most immediate being the completion within days of talks with international creditors on the next installment of bailout loans, without which Greece faces bankruptcy.

Structural reforms, achieving a primary surplus — a budget surplus without taking into account interest on outstanding loans — and preparing the country to hold the European Union's rotating six-month presidency next year were among the government's top priorities, he said.

Samaras also insisted the coalition government's aim "was from the start, and continues to be, the exhaustion of its four-year term."

Other priorities included bringing down unemployment, which has reached a record higher above 27 percent, and supporting the more vulnerable segments of society, he said.

In his reshuffle, the prime minister appointed new ministers for the posts of foreign affairs, justice, administrative reform, transport and defense, among others. The key post of finance minister was unchanged, with Yannis Stournaras remaining in the position to push through more wide-ranging economic reforms.

Socialist party head Evangelos Venizelos, who led tough financial negotiations with Greece's creditors during his term as finance minister in 2011 but who has seen his party's popularity plummet, was named deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

Greece still faces some of its toughest reforms since it began receiving rescue loans in 2010 from an international bailout from its other euro countries and the International Monetary Fund.

In return for the funds, Athens has pledged a series of deep spending cuts and tax hikes in an effort to reform the economy. But the measures have also led to a deep recession, currently in its sixth year.

ERT's closure was triggered in part by Greece's pledge to fire 15,000 public sector employees by the end of next year.