June 17th, 2011
06:06 PM ET

Analysis of Greece's cabinet reshuffle

Editor's Note: Harris Mylonas is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at The Elliott School of International Affairs & Department of Political Science at George Washington University. He is also an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

By Harris Mylonas – Special to CNN

Three weeks of peaceful street protests; a couple of Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) members of parliament resigning this week; a few more PASOK members of parliament challenging the leadership qualities of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou; rampant unemployment; violent clashes with the police; and one of the worst financial crises in modern Greek history culminated today in...a cabinet reshuffle.

Prime Minister Papandreou is facing the most intense criticism since his election in October of 2009, both from his party and from Greek society. What on Wednesday night looked like a grand coalition government with the main opposition party, Nea Demokratia, was transformed on Thursday into an intra-party “reshuffling for elections”.

The new government was sworn in on June 17 and will be up for a confidence vote on June 21. The opposition parties are not impressed with the reshuffle. Most citizens reacted by saying “same old, same old”.

Not much is expected from this new government. Why is that? To begin with, Papandreou's effort to regain the confidence of the Greek public began with the ambitious idea of a coalition government including many technocrats but ended up with a mild cabinet reshuffling satisfying the narrow interests of the ruling political party rather than effectively tackling the mounting problems.

For example, his efforts to recruit Lucas Papademos, an experienced economist that has served as vice president of the European Central Bank, as a Minister of Finance did not bear fruit. This is just one example of the failure of Papandreou to bring technocrats into the government. Instead, Evangelos Venizelos, a professor of constitutional law and until today defense minister, took up the burden.

Moreover, Theodoros Pangalos remained deputy prime minister despite the fact that he has been the target of most of the chants of the street protesters for the past three weeks. Most ministers were not changed and three important ministers were demoted but not fired—the Ministers of Finance, Interior, and Justice. However, there is a more positive way to read the news. Papandreou managed to build a team that agrees with him, to improve the internal cohesion of the party, and to share the burden with the rest of PASOK.

One step was to remove Katseli, who was probably a victim of her disagreements with the Troika (European Central Bank, IMF, European Commission), from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. To appease the political base of PASOK and silence a wave of internal criticism that has been mounting within his party he removed from the government some of his close friends that had been intensely criticized and included some of his personal critics in the government. Last but not least, by promoting Venizelos—his party rival and contestant for the leadership of the party just a few years ago— to deputy Prime Minister. Adding a second deputy Prime Minister position for Venizelos, Papandreou significantly changed the dynamic within PASOK.

Party cohesion is a arguably a precondition for the government to pass the new bundle of austerity measures required to secure more loans from the EU/IMF. Despite these cooptation tactics, however, the new government has already found its critics from within the party. A few minutes after the new government was sworn in, PASOK MP Voudouris argued that the reshuffle was unsatisfactory. Regardless, as a result of this reshuffle, the whole political party is seen as an “accomplice” of Prime Minister Papandreou in this effort.

There are also important changes in the functioning of the government. The Prime Minister re-created a “Government Committee” — something that has been a demand of many party members — where the most important policies are normally decided. The irony is that it is both oversized, with ten Ministers participating, and lacks the key Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

These changes aim to enhance Papandreou’s ability to delegate responsibility and for the government to coordinate more efficiently. Another important fact is that Pangalos will not be part of the “Government Committee” — something that might appease some of his many critics.

Turning to the Ministry of Finance — the hot potato of this affair—most people believe that Venizelos may be better in the negotiations than the previous Minister of Finance, Papaconstantinou. Venizelos is an experienced politician and charismatic speaker. He has served as minister of culture, justice, transportation, and development. Nevertheless, he is not an economist and thus he will have to rely on the advice of others.

Finally, two promising new faces in the government are Stavros Lambrinidis, (BA from Amherst, JD from Yale), the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, and LSE Professor Elias Mossialos, the new government spokesman and Minister of State.

In the meantime, this Sunday the Eurogroup is meeting in Brussels to decide on the next installment from the EU/IMF bailout package. It seems that the developments in Greece have also alarmed Sarkozy and Merkel to the point that they rushed to declare that they will provide further assistance to Greece and that the private sector can also participate in this scheme on voluntary basis — a highly contested point so far.

Nevertheless, with few exceptions, the changes have not impressed the Greek people — who are still waiting for social justice, more just redistribution, and have grown impatient with political parties— and it is unlikely that they will restore the confidence of our foreign creditors.

If this new government fails to regain the confidence of the people then we will have early elections. And one thing is certain. From these elections a one party government will not emerge.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Harris Mylonas.

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Topics: Economy • Europe • Politics

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Michael von Plato

    For years I have told one and all that GPS is the only Sunday morning political talk show worth listening to.
    And then you had Ann Coulter on.
    Question: WHY do you give air time to that twisted sociopath, fan of Ayn Rand and Joseph McCarthy?
    SHAME, SHAME on you!

    June 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  2. YouPutOneJerkInAnd

    You put one jerk out.....You put one jerk in and you shake it all about....You do the gov't shuffle and you turn yourself about....That's what it's all about!

    June 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Papandreaou has a huge problem: to urge the Greek public to accept the austeriy measures. The Greeks have a hard time to tighten their belts, as they had for years taken a lot for granted – earlier retirement and social transfers etc. They don't want to do without these amenities and are determined to keep them. They don't care how the government should finance their welfare and where it gets the money from. They expect the EU to support them. The Germans and the Dutch have to work till they reach the retirement age and are reluctant to help fiance the Greeks to enjoy this privilege. The Greeks were angry that they were left to their devices, They thought they had given the Europeans their Greek history, culture and philosophy.
    Well Aristotle would turn in his grave if he saw how selfish and self-indulged his modern Greek fellow citizens are today.

    June 18, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • lookatthebigmouthmoron

      you must be out of your mind ..
      do you have a peanut for a brain ? ahahahahahaaaaa
      not even embarassed to be an imbecile ...

      June 18, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  4. Katja

    Mr j von whatever, I have one sociopolitical reply for you: UP YOURS, and that's that.
    I'm German and have been living in Greece for the past 17 yrs and yoi clearly have NO idea what you're talking about. No Greek demands to be paid and/or compensated for culture and philosophy that was born on this soil and has ever been valued as free goods, that alone constitutes undignified insult from your part and from your alikes.
    Greeks are hardworking, poorly paid, expensively tagged, their voices are hardly ever heard and taken in consideration, and also a people that honour their savings account by living a lifetime of 'belt tightening'.

    Aristotle would turn in his grave because of ignorants like you speaking empty words.

    June 18, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • lookatthebigmouthmoron

      morons like him are hard to believe !
      great comment friend ...

      June 18, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Good for Greece to have people like you around. I see a silver lining on the horiizon.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • bjbrandon

      In truth you have two choices the first is the complain about things or second you can do something about it and change the situation. Yes the Greeks are hard working people yes their fed up with the current direction yes they want something done about but are you willing to truly finish the job you've started or are you going to allow others tell you have you are going to live.

      June 20, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  5. mandy Mcandrews

    Germany needs to pay back Greece the 60 billion in gold they stole during WWII for starters.

    June 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  6. james2

    As an American, it always astounds me how much European countries fight with each other. The Greeks fight with the Turks, the Brits fight with the French and Irish, etc. Clearly, the Greeks will end up having to either refinance or reschedule their debt payments.

    June 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      james2, "As an American, it always astounds me how much European countries fight with each other". That's why the single currency EURO was a huge mistake from the start and is doomed to be an ailing leviathan.

      June 19, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  7. John Joyce

    When it is obvious that the financial ship is sinking and the passengers are sfighting witheach other there is not a chance in hell that Greece won't default . When it defaults the poor once more will suffer the most .

    June 20, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  8. Ty Tymkovich

    Greece is a beautiful country according to Ty Tymkovich.

    August 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
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