ATHENS – For the second time in weeks, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has shaken up his Cabinet, transferring embattled Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias during the COVID-19 pandemic and also shifting Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis after criticism over response to wildfires.
Both had come under attack from the major opposition SYRIZA which said Mitsotakis' latest changes indicated what it said were failures in his administration although 102 people died in July 23, 2018 fires when the leftists were in power and didn't have a coherent disaster response plan.
Ministry positions in Greek governments are made largely on the basis of favoritism and many in top positions have little to no qualifications. Kikilias is a former pro basketball player with no health care credentials.
Kikilias will be replaced at the Health Ministry by Thanasis (Thanos) Plevris, a lawyer with a far-right, anti-immigrant and extremist background who had been with the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally party before jumping to the Conservatives.
To insure there's someone in the Health Ministry who knows something about health as the pandemic worsens, Plevris' deputy will be Assimina (Mina) Gaga, a doctor and head of one of the pneumonology departments at the capital’s COVID referral Sotiria Hospital.
Chrysochoidis, a lawyer, was serving as Citizens Protection Minister for a fourth time but Mitsotakis admitted there had been lapses in responses to nearly 600 wildfires simultaneously this summer, with two deaths.
Chrysochoidis is being replaced Panagiotis Theodorikakos, a Political Science Professor while Kikilias is taking over the Tourism portfolio from Haris Theocharis, who had gone on whirlwind tours to lure more visitors during the pandemic and largely succeeding in the effort.
Mitsotakis named former defense minister and Armed Forces chief Evangelos Apostolakis, a retired admiral, to lead a new ministry that will have jurisdiction over fire fighting, the premier promising a shakeup after the conflagrations.
Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias, who has overseen the COVID-19 pandemic and the wildfires responses, is being moved to the Ministry Defense, where he will serve under incumbent Nikos Panagiotopoulos as deputy, said Kathimerini.
Members of Parliament Andreas Katsaniotis will be Deputy Foreign Minister for Greeks Abroad while Simos Kedikoglou will be Deputy Minister of Fishing and Michalis Papadopoulos will lead the the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.
Ministers of Finance Christos Staikouras, Development and Investment Adonis Georgiadis, Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias, Culture Lina Mendoni, Education Niki Kerameus, Labor Kostis Hatzidakis, Environment and Energy Kostas Skrekas, Justice Kostas Tsiaras, Interior Makis Voridis, Migration Notis Mitarakis, Digital Governance Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Infrastructure and Transport Kostas A. Karamanlis, Shipping and Island Policy Yiannis Plakiotakis and Rural Development and Food Spilios Livanos remain in place.
Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis and Minister of State for Government Coordination Akis Skertsos also retain their posts.
After the announcement, a statement from SYRIZA, which was ousted by New Democracy in July 7, 2019 snap elections, said that, “With the choices he made, Mr. Mitsotakis has cynically admitted his resounding failure.”
SYRIZA pointed especially to the replacements of Kikilias and Chrysochoidis at key positions that were highly visible during the twin crises this summer and with the pandemic rising again.
Mitsotakis, SYRIZA said, “hailed the ‘successful’ management of the pandemic by ousting Mr. Kikilias and putting an extreme rightist in his place,” it said, referring to Plevris, formerly of the ultranationalist LAOS party.
“It celebrated that its ‘wildfire plan was a success’ and got rid of the responsible ministers,” SYRIZA added, in a reference to Chrysochoidis’ replacement by Panagiotis Theodorikakos but also to the transfer of Hardalias to the Ministry of Defense from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry.
“Citizens have to deal with Mr. Mitsotakis’ failure on a daily basis,” SYRIZA added without noting some of its former officials are facing prosecution over the 2018 wildfires and with the families of some victims bringing suit as well.