PRIME ministers rejig their cabinets for various reasons: to breathe fresh life into reform efforts, to reward favoured ministers and punish others, to send voters or markets a signal of intent. Greece’s cabinet reshuffle, announced—much to the dismay of journalists—a little before 2 this morning, was not (primarily) about any of the above.
George Papandreou (pictured), the country’s stoic prime minister, has not only moved jobs around, he has restructured his government. Portfolios have been shifted, chunks of policy have been sliced off and become independent ministries, more than a few departments have been renamed. Mr Papandreou has also expanded his cabinet by 12, making it a populous 49-member affair.
Yannis Ragoussis, a close ally of the prime minister, takes on the job of government co-ordination, perhaps the second most taxing position in the Greek cabinet after the finance and economy minister. That role stays in the hands of George Papaconstantinou, who has navigated with poise one of the least enviable political jobs in the world throughout Greece's economic crisis, earning the trust of European and IMF figures along the way.
Louka Katseli, previously in charge of competitiveness, development and shipping, has been demoted to labour minister after an uninspiring stint. Michalis Chrisochoidis, until yesterday interior minister with a good record in dealing with terrorism and public order, will take over parts of Ms Katseli’s portfolio and will be charged with spearheading the country’s return to economic growth.
But the most telling new additions are two old party foes of Mr Papandreou’s. Kostas Skandalidis, an old hand who once ran against the prime minister for the leadership of their Pasok party, takes charge of agriculture, while Milena Apostolaki, once persona non grata in the prime minister’s circle, will be Mr Skandalidis’s deputy.
With international markets watching Greece’s exercises in fiscal prudence closely, the business of government in Athens has become a highly uncreative affair: most of it is written down in a memorandum co-signed by Papandreou and the EU/IMF/European Central Bank troika when Greece agreed its €110 billion ($140 billion) bail-out package in May.
Pasok's popularity has nonetheless suffered as the economy deteriorates, underscored by an annualised 3.5% contraction in GDP in the second quarter of this year and an unemployment rate of 11.7%. A late August poll saw the government’s approval ratings slip under 30%, though it remains comfortably ahead of the conservative New Democracy party.
What on a first reading may look like a radical overhaul of government may in fact have more to do with the internal politics of Pasok. With further drastic reforms on their way, Mr Papandreou may feel he needs to convince his own ranks more than public opinion. His priority for the coming months looks set to be a consolidation of party unity, with the aim of ensuring that his agenda enjoys solid support. What better way to achieve that than giving everyone with a grudge a job in government?
μας πήρανε χαμπάρι και οι "ξένοι"