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Liberal economist tapped to spearhead Greek economy overhaul

June 26, 2012 | 11:54 am

Greek economist
ATHENS -- Greece’s creaky governmental coalition on Tuesday appointed liberal economist Ioannis Stournaras to spearhead efforts to fix the country's broken economy after its first choice, National Bank of Greece Chairman Vassilis Rapanos, begged off for health reasons following a weekend hospitalization.

Stournaras, a strong supporter of structural reforms sought by international creditors in exchange for continuing to bail out the cash-strapped nation, has been credited with helping Greece enter the Eurozone more than a decade ago.

At least three other candidates were considered before Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who heads a broad-based left-to-right coalition, opted for what critics called a safe choice: a non-political pick.

“Stournaras is smart, he’s respectable and he embodies the country’s most formidable feat in recent history: Greece’s entry to the euro,” said Yiorgos Kirtsos, a newspaper publisher and political activist.

“Still,” Kirtsos said, “he’s politically expendable, and by picking him, Samaras and his coalition partners ultimately moved to shield their political stalwarts than unleash them to do the work that is expected of them.”

Samaras, himself recovering from urgent eye surgery he underwent over the weekend, was set to meet with his Socialist and euro-leftists alliance partners at his home later Tuesday.

It was not yet clear whether Stournaras would accompany acting Finance Minister George Zanias at the June 28-29 EU summit along with President Karolos Papoulias, who will be filling in for Samaras.

Repeated delays in getting the new government going has exasperated Greece’s European peers and International Monetary Fund creditors. This week, a critical inspection by those lenders was set back for a third time in more than three months. Greece's problems have led to fresh uncertainty over Athens’ ability to fix its faltering economy and continue to use the euro as its currency.

Continued failures could result in international lenders holding off on vital bailout funds. Without such help, finance ministry officials say, Greece would be left unable to pay its bills by the end of July.

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-- Anthee Carassava

Photo: Newly appointed Greek Finance Minister Ioannis Stournaras talks to reporters while leaving the Greek prime minister's residence in Athens on Tuesday. Credit: Louisa Gouliamaki  / AFP / Getty Images.

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