Greek finance minister quits cabinet to head party

Greek finance minister quits cabinet to head party

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos announced on Monday that he is resigning his government job after being elected on Sunday to head the Socialist party PASOK, in the run-up to elections.

“In the next few weeks, up to the elections, we must be very vigilant and persevering to achieve the budget targets, bring in public revenues, control expenditure and apply the economic programme,” Venizelos said.

Early legislative elections are to be held by the middle of May under an agreement between the conservative New Democracy party and PASOK which underpins the interim arrangement headed by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former central banker.

Opinion polls suggest that PASOK will do badly in the elections because it has been involved in imposing deep austerity in the last two years but Venizelos said that he hoped to achieve victory over his conservative rival, Antonis Samaras.

Venizelos, who has played a central role in recent months in negotiating a second bailout for Greece coupled with new austerity measures, made his announcement after meeting President Carolos Papoulias and before meeting Papademos.

“I had the opportunity at a farewell meeting this morning at the finance ministry to give my last instructions,” he said.

Venizelos, aged 55, has been finance minister for nine months and he was the only candidate to lead PASOK.

He was elected to the post late on Sunday to succeed George Papandreou, who had led the party in 2004 and won power at the end of 2009, only to be engulfed by, and eventually to fall victim to, the debt crisis late last year.

PASOK is one of the two main parties in an interim coalition government established to restore confidence, negotiate a second rescue and ensure promises to reform are applied.

Media reports suggest that the finance portfolio might be taken over by Papademos or be handed to the number two at the ministry, Philippos Sahinidis, who has been in his job since October 2009.

Venizelos was opposed initially to the tough measures to correct public finances imposed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund for a first bailout in 2010.

Since the formation of the interim government he has worked with Papademos to draft, negotiate and enact the terms of a second rescue involving a complex debt restructuring and bond swap and further deep action to cut spending, raise taxes and reform the economy.

Venizelos, considered to be a brilliant professor of constitutional law, joined PASOK at the end of the 1980s, and since then has been continuously elected a member of parliament, and been appointed to several ministries.