* Technocrat named finance minister
* Stournaras was in team that negotiated Greek euro entry
* Banker Rapanos resigned five days after being named
By Deepa Babington and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS, June 26 Yannis Stournaras, a
well-respected liberal economist, was appointed Greece's new
finance minister on Tuesday after the sudden resignation of the
first choice for the job at a crucial moment for the debt-laden
The new conservative-led government scrambled to make a
quick decision on the post after banker Vassilis Rapanos quit on
Monday on the advice of doctors after spending four days in
hospital with dizziness and abdominal pains.
His sudden resignation threw the government into confusion
at a time when it faces the daunting task of trying to persuade
sceptical international lenders to ease the harsh terms of a
bailout that has enraged the population.
With Greece weeks away from running out of cash and in
desperate need of a minister to lead negotiations with lenders,
party officials said the three ruling coalition leaders quickly
agreed on Samaras's choice of Stournaras, 55, who is nicknamed
"Mr Euro" in Greece.
He faces a difficult juggling act - pushing for more time
and money from sceptical foreign lenders while coaxing reluctant
officials at home to push through unpopular reforms.
"Stournaras is a serious, respected person who will inspire
some confidence in the markets. But he is entering a bad
government, where many old-style, spendthrift politicians are
occupying key positions," said political analyst John Loulis.
"He will have to wage a hard battle against them. He is
entering the wolf's lair and he won't survive without the prime
minister's solid support."
The Samaras government has been in place less than a week
but already looks accident prone after deputy Shipping Minister
George Vernikos also resigned on Tuesday. He had been attacked
by the media and opposition for using offshore companies.
Ministers are banned from using such companies, which are a
common tactic by wealthy Greeks to avoid taxes.
Stournaras is an economics professor at the University of
Athens and the head of the influential IOBE think-tank. Most
recently he was development minister in the caretaker government
that led Greece to elections on June 17.
Described by colleagues as affable, he is considered an
ardent supporter of structural reforms to make the economy more
competitive - ideas that are likely to win him favour with
international lenders exasperated with the slow pace of reform.
INEFFICIENT AND BADLY MANAGED
He was part of the team that negotiated Greece's entry to
the euro in 2001, as chief economic adviser to former Prime
Minister Costas Simitis. He later became CEO of Emporiki Bank,
where he initiated its gradual sale to France's Credit Agricole.
That experience has opened him to opposition criticism. The
anti-bailout Independent Greeks party said both he and his
predecessor's experience was "stained by the scandalous era" of
People who have worked closely with Stournaras say he is
well qualified to take on a role that is often dubbed the
world's toughest job.
Stelina Hatzichristou, a researcher at IOBE, said Stournaras
was adept at managing people and had a strong understanding and
knowledge of the Greek economy, which has been ravaged by five
years of crisis.
In a speech in April, he blamed Greece's "inefficient,
one-size-fits-all, party-dominated and badly-managed public
sector" for the country's woes together with tax evasion, social
security fraud, high defence spending and bureaucracy.
He criticised the economic policy pursued by the previous
Socialist government, saying it cut spending in the wrong way,
while failing to slash red tape and boost competition.
"Laws were passed but not implemented," he said. He also
complained about unjustifiable delays in privatisations.
It was unclear whether Stournaras would be ready for a
European summit on Thursday and Friday, where Greece's demand to
renegotiate the bailout and its off-track reform programme are
likely to come into focus.
Samaras, who emerged from hospital on Monday with a bandage
over one eye following eye surgery, will miss the meeting.
SAMARAS TALKS TO MERKEL
A government official said Samaras had spoken to German
Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone to discuss the new government
and he would embark on a European tour, including Berlin, to
seek a softening of the bailout deal as soon as he recovered.
Samaras also spoke by phone to Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude
Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Council
President Herman Van Rompuy, the official said.
Stournaras's biggest challenge in the days ahead will be to
handle talks with the "troika" of EU, European Central Bank and
International Monetary Fund lenders, who postponed a scheduled
trip to Athens this week because of the illnesses of Samaras and
Greece needs its next tranche of aid to keep the state
functioning beyond July, but the money is unlikely to be granted
without a showdown with lenders angry that Athens wants to
renege on austerity measures agreed in exchange for the rescue.
The bailout has prevented Greece from going bankrupt and
suffering a humiliating exit from the euro zone, but it has also
deepened a recession now in its fifth year, left one out of five
Greeks jobless and caused violent protests in Athens.
Samaras's New Democracy party narrowly won the June 17
election against the radical leftist Syriza bloc which wants to
tear up the bailout agreement.