Greece PM Alexis Tsipras to anoint anti-austerity economist as finance minister

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Athens | Published: January 27, 2015 5:47:10 PM

Economics professor Yanis Varoufakis confirmed he would become Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' finance minister...

Economics professor Yanis Varoufakis confirmed he would become Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ finance minister on Tuesday, promising to defy advice to “put up or shut up” and find solutions that favour all Europeans rather than just Greeks.

After two years of waiting in the wings, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party stormed to power in Sunday’s snap election on a wave of anger against German-backed austerity  that has driven up poverty and pushed unemployment over 25 percent.

Appointing Varoufakis to the key finance portfolio signals Tsipras’s intent to adopt a hardline against EU/IMF negotiators financing the country and roll back four years of tough economic policies.

Varoufakis is expected to be formally appointed when Tsipras unveils his cabinet later on Tuesday. His administration is expected to be smaller and more centralized than in the past, with several ministries merged.
“The time to put up or shut up has, I have been told, arrived. My plan is to defy such advice,” Varoufakis wrote on his blog. “To continue blogging here even though it is normally considered irresponsible for a Finance Minister to indulge in such crass forms of communication.”
A longtime critic of Europe’s handling of the euro zone crisis, Varoufakis has railed against the bailouts of struggling euro zone states as “fiscal waterboarding” that risked converting Europe into a “Victorian workhouse”.

In interviews last week, Varoufakis said the new cabinet would quickly get to work implementing campaign pledges to end what Syriza calls a “humanitarian crisis” unfolding in Greece, fight corruption and bureaucracy.

A Syriza-led government would immediately submit a series of bills to fight a “triangle of corruption” between media, banks, builders, state suppliers, he told the Ta Nea newspaper.

But speaking to Irish radio on Tuesday, Varoufakis also said he planned to negotiate a solution with lenders, saying he had already had an “encouraging and inspiring” chat with the head of the euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

“Make no mistake: what is beginning today is a process of deliberation with our European partners,” he said.

“As the next finance minister, I can assure you that I shall not go into the Eurogroup seeking a solution that is good for the Greek taxpayer and bad for the Irish, Slovak, German, French and Italian taxpayer.”

In a sign of the challenges ahead for Tsipras’s fledgling government, Moody’s ratings agency warned that the uncertainty created by Syriza’s victory was negative for the country’s credit rating.

Critics say it will be difficult for Tsipras to satisfy campaign pledges without depleting the state’s cash coffers. Greece is due to receive over 7 billion euros in aid but that looks uncertain after Tsipras’s victory.

The new prime minister is also under pressure to quickly raise the minimum wage back to 751 euros as promised during the campaign, as well as give free electricity and food stamps to the poor and restore a Christmas bonus for poor pensioners.

Tsipras, a former student Communist, has also pledged to freeze public sector layoffs as demanded under the country’s 240-billion-euro bailout, and stop an unpopular evaluation process for civil servants.

The cabinet is also expected to include the leader of his junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party. Panos Kammenos is expected to take the defence portfolio.

Longtime Syriza veteran and economist Yannis Dragasakis – who in the run-up to the vote demanded an investigation into how the country was forced into a bailout – is expected to become deputy prime minister overseeing ministries related to the economy.

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