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Tuesday September 17th, 2019 9:01PM

Greece's new, conservative Cabinet is sworn in

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's new Cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, two days after conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis won early elections on pledges to make the country more business-friendly, cut taxes and negotiate an easing of draconian budget conditions agreed as part of the country's rescue program.

The new Cabinet relies heavily on experienced politicians who have served in previous governments, but also includes non-politician technocrats considered experts in their fields.

The crucial post of finance minister went to Christos Staikouras, an economist and engineer who comes with the experience of having served as deputy minister during the financial crisis under a previous government.

"Our central aim is to create the conditions for a high and sustainable development with healthy public finances and a stable banking sector," Staikouras said during the handover of the ministry from his predecessor, Euclid Tsakalotos.

"We will go ahead with relieving the tax burden on households and businesses," Staikouras said. "We will promote production, productivity, competitiveness, quality, adaptability and an outward looking approach of our economy."

The new government's promise for lowering taxes, and calls to ease the strict budget targets, was bluntly rejected by Greece's creditors during the bailout year, even before the country had formed its new government.

Finance ministers from the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency met in Brussels Monday evening and insisted key budget targets must be adhered to.

"Commitments are commitments, and if we break them, credibility is the first thing to fall apart. That brings about a lack of confidence and investment," Mario Centeno, president of the so-called Eurogroup, said after the meeting.

Greece depended for years on rescue loans from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund in return for deep reforms to the country's economy that included steep tax hikes and major spending cuts.

The price was heavy as unemployment and poverty levels soared in the country.

Greece's third and final international bailout ended last year and while the country doesn't rely on direct funds to meet its debt repayments, the previous government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to meet a series of budget targets over the coming years, even decades.

As part of those agreements, Greece has pledged to achieve government budget surpluses, before debt costs, of 3.5% of GDP for the coming years. Critics say that requirement has shackled government spending and stifled the country's recovery.

As a result of those agreements, Greece remains under strict surveillance from its euro partners.

Staikouras said that unlike frequent practices at ministry handovers during a change of government, he would not say everything his predecessor had done was wrong.

"We will maintain any positive things that were done and we will build on them," he said. "But we will correct mistakes and deal with any oversights."

Other key positions in the new Cabinet also went to seasoned political veterans. The foreign ministry was given to Nikos Dendias, who held previous Cabinet positions in the ministries of development, defense and public order, while a former public order minister under a previous socialist government, Michalis Chrisohoidis, takes the reins of the ministry once again as one of Mitsotakis' non-parliamentary appointees.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy
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