One of the first things Fotis Kouvelis sought to do after assuming the duties of alternate defence minister was to remind all and sundry that alternate ministers report directly to the prime minister, and that this is exactly what he intends to do.
The longtime leader of the renewal left in Greece has been strongly criticised by right-wingers and leftists alike for agreeing to serve under Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whom the critics view as an exponent of the populist right.
Effectively, Kouvelis will act as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ eyes and ears at the ministry, at a time when Greece is confronted with mounting aggressiveness from Turkey, as is Cyprus. His experience and low-key, moderate personality will be a crucial counter-balance to the sometimes boisterous Kammenos.
That is the exactly the role that Syriza stalwart Dimitris Vitsas played, until he was appointed migration minister in the cabinet reshuffle.
Kammenos’ bravado in actions and statements regarding Turkey has not always been well-received in the PM’s office, and has repeatedly triggered angry, and even bellicose responses from Ankara.
That included a January σηιπ ride near the Imia islets, to throw a wreath in memory of the four officers who died when their helicopter fell in the 1996 Imia crisis, when both sides agreed to keep their distance from the contested islets.
Moreover, Kammenos’ declarations that he intends to scuttle Tsipras’ aim of reaching any settlement with Skopje that includes the name Macedonia is yet another source of consternation in the PM’s office, as it is directly related to FYROM’s accession to Nato, which is under the defence ministry’s remit.
In the event that a settlement is tabled in parliament and Kammenos’ Independent Greeks, the junior coalition partner, votes it down, that could well mean that Kammenos will first resign his cabinet post, in which case Kouvelis will most likely replace him.
Kammenos and Kouvelis had an exceptionally cordial, televised encounter at the ministry, when Kouvelis took over from Vitsas.
Kammenos said that Kouvelis is “a personality in our country’s public life who has always served the principles of democracy, and taught us about the unity of the people and the nation, regardless of political choices”.
Kouvelis praised the work that has been done to keep the ministry afloat in times of economic crisis.