Wednesday 21 March 2018

Greece faces fresh turmoil as finance minister quits

Harry Papachristou and Karolina Tagaris

Major hurdle for new coalition as talks on bailout terms loom

Greece's new finance minister resigned because of ill health yesterday, throwing the government's drive to soften the terms of an international bailout into confusion days before a European summit.

Vassilis Rapanos (64), chairman of the National Bank of Greece, was rushed to hospital on Friday before he could be sworn in, complaining of abdominal pain, nausea and dizziness. Greek media said he had a history of ill-health.

The office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who himself only took office last Wednesday following a June 17 election, said Mr Rapanos had sent a letter of resignation because of his health problems and it had been accepted.

Mr Samaras himself has only just emerged from hospital after undergoing eye surgery to repair a damaged retina. Both he and Mr Rapanos had already said they would not be able to attend the June 28-29 European summit.

It was a worryingly chaotic start for the new government, formed after the second election in a month, which faces a rocky road in responding to huge domestic opposition to a harsh international bailout in the face of steadfast European opposition to any watering down of its terms.

Only hours before Mr Rapanos's resignation, a hospital bulletin said he would be discharged today. He had undergone a gastroscopy and colonoscopy.

According to a source from one of the three parties in the new coalition government, Mr Rapanos had been under heavy pressure from his family to turn down the stressful job because of his health problems.

Earlier yesterday the three party leaders had announced a transatlantic road show to try to persuade sceptical lenders to give them more time to repay the country's massive debt.

The medical problems of Mr Samaras and Mr Rapanos had also forced a postponement of the first meeting between the new government and Greece's "troika" of international lenders, originally slated for yesterday.

Mr Samaras's government, an unlikely alliance of right and left, has promised it will soften the punishing terms of a bailout saving them from bankruptcy in exchange for deep economic pain.

But eurozone paymaster Germany has strongly rejected major concessions.

Berlin signalled yesterday that Europe would wait for the troika's report on Greece before taking any decisions on how to make adjustments to the bailout package to compensate for weeks of political paralysis.

A new date for the troika visit has not been set.


Mr Samaras (61) emerged from hospital yesterday with a bandage over one eye. He was under orders not to fly or make the long road trip to Brussels, doctors said.

Speaking to Mega TV earlier, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou had said Mr Rapanos had told Mr Samaras on Friday, after being offered the job, that he had a "chronic situation" that he had learned to live with and that it would not affect his ability to do the demanding and stressful job.

Mr Kedikoglou later said the government was not expected to name a replacement for Mr Rapanos before today.

The government said Mr Samaras and the leaders of his two coalition allies -- the Socialist PASOK and smaller Democratic Left -- would take their case for renegotiating the bailout conditions to Europe and the US as soon as the prime minister was well enough. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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