ATHENS – Greek Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK Socialist leader who serves in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, apparently couldn’t resist taking a verbal jab at Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, the country’s point man in negotiations with international lenders.
Venizelos, who served as finance chief in a previous government that failed to make a dent in Greece’s crushing debt and economic crisis has reportedly been sniping behind the scenes at Stournaras, who left a prestigious think tank to take the thankless job of overseeing plans to right the economy, that include backing austerity measures.
But with talks stalled with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) Venizelos, who is getting frustrated with the delays and complained of “foot dragging,” told reporters in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO meeting – seemingly with tongue deep in cheek – that Stournaras was just the right man for the job, but in a way critics said was brimming with sarcasm.
Venizelos, widening a rift, said Stournaras could not assume a senior post in the next European Commission. “Of course not. Stournaras is irreplaceable,” said Venizelos. “He talks sweetly, he reassures people, he expresses in the best possible way the sympathy and compassion that the Greek people need,” he added.
When Samaras needed PASOK to create a coalition and get enough votes to control the Parliament, Venizelos reportedly tried to torpedo the choice of Stournaras and critics say the two are often at odds on how to proceed with the crisis as Venizelos recalls his stint as finance chief.
Venizelos is due to hold a fresh round of talks with Samaras on Dec. 5 about the obstacles that need to be cleared before the Troika releases a delayed one billion euro ($1.37 billion) installment.
The biggest is whether to lift a ban on mortgage foreclosures that the previous PASOK administration put in place to protect homeowners who couldn’t pay because of big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions imposed by the government on Troika orders.
The Troika wants the ban lifted but reports said at least five New Democracy lawmakers are balking at supporting the measure, a crucial problem as the government has only a four-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament.
The ban protects homes with a taxable value of less than 200,000. Venizelos earlier had supported lifting it after complaining that some people were taking advantage of it not to pay although they could. The consumer group EKPOIZO said it has collected 115,000 signatures in a petition against the ending of the moratorium.