March 25, 2023

Greek Squabbles Prolong Selection of New Leader

The list of candidates mentioned in media reports included an array of senior figures, including Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos after Vassilis Skouris, president of the European Court of Justice, was mentioned as the most likely contender.

But analysts said they did not rule out a surprise challenger emerging to succeed Prime Minister George A. Papandreou. After months of protest and building pressure from the European Union, Mr. Papandreou agreed two days ago to step down once political negotiators had established a new unity government. But from the start those negotiations seemed dogged with reverses.

By late afternoon Tuesday, Greece seemed to face yet a new set of troubles as Antonis Samaras, the leader of the main opposition party, New Democracy, balked at a demand by Eurogroup, the European Union’s group of finance ministers, that several top Greek leaders give a written commitment to the terms of an expanded bailout hammered out with Europe’s leaders last month.

“There is such a thing as national dignity,” Mr. Samaras said in a statement. “I have repeatedly explained that in order to protect the Greek economy and the euro, the implementation of the Oct. 26 agreement is inevitable.”

He added, “I won’t allow anyone to question the statements I have made.”

His statement came just a few hours after Finance Minister Venizelos told a cabinet meeting that five top Greek officials were being asked to sign the letter — a demand made on Monday by the chief of Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker — reaffirming their commitment to Greece’s bailouts deals and economic reforms before the next tranche of aid to Greece would be released.

The demand landed in the middle of byzantine negotiations that dragged on through yet another day. The apparent choice of Mr. Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, came after more than two days of intense wrangling here and growing fear that Greece’s political class would be unable to stop feuding — and positioning themselves for the next elections — long enough to agree on a unity government.

But early Wednesday morning, several local media outlets reported that there had been discussions about other possible candidates for prime minister, including the Parliament speaker, Filippos Petsalnikos, and a former speaker, Apostolos Kaklamanis.

In the through-the-looking-glass world of Greek politics, the argument was not over who could claim the cabinet positions, but who could avoid taking them, particularly the Finance Ministry.

Mr. Papandreou was repeatedly rebuffed when he offered positions in the new government, reports said, because nobody wanted to be associated with the unpopular measures Greece will be forced to impose to qualify for new loans from Europe.

In particular, Mr. Samaras, who has his eye on the next elections, did not see any reason for his party to participate. But other smaller parties also refused.

Mr. Papademos had also played a role in the delays by demanding the right to appoint some ministers, including the finance minister.

In one of the stranger twists, Mr. Papademos apparently insisted that the current finance minister, Mr. Venizelos, who will most likely run for prime minister in the next elections, step down. But Mr. Samaras, who would like to run against him, is demanding that he stay, some local news outlets have reported.

Greece’s new administration has a difficult road ahead. Its first job will be to secure the next tranche of aid, which is needed by December, Greek officials say, or the country will be unable to pay its bills.

But it must also secure approval of the loan deal, which requires that Parliament pass a new round of austerity measures, including layoffs of government workers. It also calls for permanent foreign monitoring to ensure that Greece delivers on promised structural changes, a move that many Greeks see as an affront to national sovereignty.

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