After a rough start for Greece’s newly inaugurated center-right government — Greece’s new prime minister Antonis Samaras remains immobilized from an emergency eye surgery over the weekend and his first pick for finance minister (Vassilis Rapanos, the head of the National Bank of Greece) resigned after falling ill last Friday — it looks like Greece finally has a finance minister.
Samaras has appointed Yiannis Stournaras as the new finance minister, although Stournaras will not attend the European Union summit in Rome that kicks off Thursday. Samaras will not be able to attend, nor will the party leaders of his two coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the center-left PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the more anti-austerity Democratic Left. Instead, Greek president Karolos Papoulias, will lead the Greek delegation.
Meanwhile, in another blow to the Samaras government, newly installed deputy shipping minister George Vernikos resigned Tuesday after opponents pointed to his use of offshore companies, which are often used by Greeks to avoid taxes.
Stournaras is a generally respected professor and economist — most recently, he has served as the general director of the influential Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, a Greek economic think tank and as development minister in the caretaker government between the May 6 and June 17 elections.
He is most well-known for his role in designing economic policy in advance of Greece’s accession into the eurozone and is known in Greece as “Mr. Euro” — it’s certainly difficult to miss the symbolism in that. Stournaras has also worked as special adviser to Greece’s finance ministry and the Bank of Greece in the 1980s and 1990s.
Reuters reports that the Stournaras appointment, although widely applauded, does not guarantee any quick solution for the Greek economy’s future:
He faces a difficult juggling act – pushing for more time and money from sceptical foreign lenders while coaxing reluctant officials at home to push through unpopular reforms.
“Stournaras is a serious, respected person who will inspire some confidence in the markets. But he is entering a bad government, where many old-style, spendthrift politicians are occupying key positions,” said political analyst John Loulis.
“He will have to wage a hard battle against them. He is entering the wolf’s lair and he won’t survive without the prime minister’s solid support.”
A troubling nugget comes from The Financial Times, whichreports that none other than PASOK leader Venizelos, also the former finance minister who negotiated Greece’s second bailout (that the government now hopes to renegotiate), just last week vetoed the reappointment of Stournaras as the permanent development minister.