Following the tragedy of the Eastern Attica wildfires, the next two milestones in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ strategy for improving the political climate are an expected major cabinet reshuffle, and the PM’s annual political and economic policy address at the Thessaloniki International Fair.
By all accounts, Tsipras is planning a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, which can give the government a new image and political momentum.
In his choices for cabinet appointments, he will have to address the deficiencies and problems that emerged in the deadly fire, even as he attempts to turn a page politically.
However, it is unclear whether a reshuffle that is fairly close to the next general elections can produce tangible results in terms of electoral support.
The image makeover that the PM seeks, with appointments of younger ministers that can support the assertion that this government is unlike its predecessors, will have to be coupled with a strong message of political stability to creditors.
At the same time, some of the current, younger ministers, like government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, were injured politically by their public exposure during the wildfires.
The Thessaloniki International Fair challenge
Tsipras appearance and address at the Thessaloniki International Fair this year will be accompanied by severe pressures on various fronts.
Firstly, the visit will rekindle the strong opposition in northern Greece to the FYROM-Greece naming agreement. There will be protests in Thessaloniki, even as FYROM conducts the political campaign before the referendum on the agreement. It will revive the Greek government’s anxiety about the political cost. It will also refuel the discussion of how governmental cohesion will be maintained, as the junior partner in the ruling coalition, Panos Kammenos, has vowed to vote down the agreement in the ratification process and pull out of the government.
The role of the bailout exit
The prime minister will have to present a persuasive narrative about the meaning of the “exit from the memorandums”, especially since, due to the continuing tumult in the international bond market and the looming questions about the viability of the Greek debt, the return to the markets will for the time being be postponed.
The greatest challenge for the government is to enhance its “social profile” only with measures that can be covered by the amount that exceeds the target for the primary surplus, especially since it will take until November to have a complete picture of the execution of the budget.
It will be very difficult for the government to now announce anything on the issue of suspending pension cuts, when the German parliament, the ECB, and the IMF have made clear that non-implementation of measures that have already been passed by the Greek parliament is unacceptable.
Though various ministers have spoken about suspension of the pension cuts at times, it is the prime minister’s statement on the issue that will count, and will be central to subsequent political developments.
If the PM confirms the intention of suspending pension cuts, it is clear that Greece will head toward a clash with creditors, and that may be used as a pretext for declaring snap elections.
If, however, the PM will enforce planned pension cuts, and limits himself to social measures that can be paid for by the revenues that exceed the primary surplus target, the government will try to counter-balance the pension cuts with other social measures.
The government has not yet decided if the super-primary surplus funds will be used for tangible handouts for various categories of citizens, or for funding Healthcare, Education, or civil service hiring.
That will be in part decided by the choices of each minister in an electoral year, during which individual agendas will play a decisive role.