ATHENS — A tough-minded Greek economics professor stepped up on Tuesday to the hardest job in the eurozone -- finance minister of a nation in upheaval that appears constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.
The 55-year-old Yannis Stournaras is seen as close to the newly-elected conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on economic policy and could bring some creative thinking as well as a good dose of frank talking to the post.
"He is sincere and capable. An open mind committed to reforms," said Theodoros Pelagidis, an economics professor at Pyraeus University.
"He is not going to be making any compromises," he said.
Stournaras will need all the energy he can muster to steer economic policy in a country in its fifth year of recession where unemployment is at record highs and where resentment against salary and pension cuts is at a boiling point.
Last year Stournaras as then head of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research put forward a proposal for using Greece's state property as collateral for new bonds to raise more than 100 billion euros ($125 billion).
If he presses ahead with the plan, the new minister however is likely to encounter considerable headwinds in a country where the long-delayed privatisation process of state property is sensitive for nationalistic reasons.
Greece is also headed for a showdown with its foreign creditors over its bid to drastically ease the terms of a bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that is keeping the economy on life support.
Stournaras has called for a "partial renegotiation" of the bailout deal.
Even though most analysts agree that Samaras's victory in landmark June 17 elections eased fears of an immediate Greek euro exit, some say there is still a danger that financial pressures could eventually force it out of the group.
Stournaras has also lashed out at Greece's critics in a series of interviews and articles since the debt crisis exploded here in 2009 with the release of some dire deficit data before spreading out across the eurozone.
"Greece's case is not that of Argentina," he told the state-run Athens news agency ANA in an interview while he was development minister in the previous caretaker government in charge before last Sunday's elections.
In a joint article written with former prime minister Costas Simitis in Britain's Guardian daily in April, Stournaras also said those accused of faking the books to join the euro were guilty of "ignorance" and "hypocrisy".
The eurozone "is not a club of advanced countries whose common interests are opposed to those of the countries that lag behind," he wrote.
"Since it is a joint plan for progress, its design should include both the powerful with their strengths, and the less powerful with their weaknesses.
"It must take into account the inequalities and the fact that the developed countries not only bear burdens but also obtain significant benefits," he said in a thinly-veiled reference to the eurozone's chief paymaster Germany.
On austerity, he said: "There is a widespread feeling that the conditions imposed were a punishment intended to teach other countries a lesson."
Stournaras has been named but is expected to be sworn in only next week after Samaras, who underwent major eye surgery over the weekend, returns to work.
The current finance minister, George Zanias, will therefore be at the EU summit this week in a delegation led by President Carolos Papoulias.
Stournaras was appointed when the previous nominee, the chairman of Greece's biggest bank Vassilis Rapanos, turned down the post due to health problems after being hospitalised just a day after being tapped for the post.
Greek newspapers reported that Rapanos, who was seen as close to the socialist Pasok party, a junior partner in the new coalition, also declined the nomination because of a major falling out with Samaras.
Both Stournaras and Rapanos were high-placed officials in the finance ministry at the time that Greece joined the eurozone.
Stournaras also worked at the public debt management office between 1998 and 2000 and was chairman of Emporiki Bank from 2000 to 2004 before it became part of the French banking group Credit Agricole.
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