By Lefteris Yallouros – Athens
Gikas Hardouvelis will be sworn in Tuesday as Greece’s new Finance minister, replacing Yannis Stournaras, following a sweeping cabinet reshuffle by Prime minister Antonis Samaras.
Hardouvelis is a professor of finance and banking administration at the University of Piraeus, economic adviser to Eurobank and former adviser to ex-Prime Ministers Lucas Papademos and Costas Simitis.
Analysts point out that with Yannis Stournaras heading to the Bank of Greece to take over as Governor from Giorgos Provopoulos, the pair will work in tandem to ensure Greece stays on track in the implementation of the adjustment program and troika-sponsored structural reforms.
Main opposition SYRIZA (and minor opposition parties also) was quick to dismiss the reshuffle as cosmetic, noting it would not change the government’s harsh economic policies.
However, it seems that Hardouvelis is not just any technocrat chosen to please troika inspectors and Greece’s international lenders. In his first statement to the press following the announcement of the reshuffle, Hardouvelis was eager to show his priority will be to relieve Greeks most hurt by six years of recession and tough austerity.
“Greece is suffering. Every household has at least one unemployed member or someone who works and is not being paid or is dependent on others on low incomes” Hardouvelis said and added: “Greece must find its path as it isn’t only facing the troika. Many things must be done. We have a marathon ahead of us”.
With the troika expected to arrive in Greece next month, the country’s Prime Minister is said to have agreed with coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos to attempt to push for tax breaks to be given to Greek medium and small sized businesses as well as poorer households.
From the new Finance minister’s first statement it is evident that the real economy will be a top priority for the new cabinet. Another important target Hardouvelis will have to work towards is striking a deal for substantial debt relief being granted to Greece from its EU partners.
As alternate Finance minister Christos Staikouras and deputy Fin min Giorgos Mavraganis both kept their positions within the government, continuity in talks with the troika is assured. Furthermore, Hardouvelis himself also has experience of deliberating with Greece’s lenders from a governmental post as he was part of the team that negotiated the 2012 debt haircut (PSI+).
The marathon Hardouvelis described will have two finishing lines; making sure the economic recovery affects the lives of Greeks most hit by the economic crisis while delivering the necessary reforms that ensure Greece returns to growth and its debt is viable again.