ATHENS — Greece ushered in a new government Wednesday that will put it back at Europe’s bargaining table, ending a seven-week leadership vacuum that had destabilized this already fragile nation and cast a shadow over the future of the eurozone.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democracy Party, was sworn in Wednesday as prime minister in a televised ceremony conducted by Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church. Samaras is preparing to work with two other parties that agreed to form a coalition.
But whether his government will last more than a few months, or succeed in renegotiating some of the tough austerity terms of Greece’s multibillion-euro bailouts with its European partners, remained an open question.
Together with the Greek Socialist party known as PASOK and the moderate Democratic Left, a small party that won only 6.2 percent of the vote, Samaras is maneuvering to form an airtight majority coalition in Parliament. He hopes this will suffice to resist the popular far-left Syriza party, which has said it will fight if Samaras does not repudiate the most onerous terms of Greece’s loan deals with its creditors.
Analysts noted that with the economy in a downward spiral and the government bleeding cash, Samaras has little room to maneuver and scant chance of comforting Greeks.
The new government can “incrementally develop a certain sense of stability and certainty, but it will always be vulnerable to any shock — whether political or economic,” said Marco Vicenzino, director of the Global Strategy Project, a geopolitical risk analysis firm based in London.
After he was sworn in by the archbishop — an inclusion of a religious figure customary in Greece, but unusual in much of Europe — Samaras emphasized the need for “patriotism, national unity, and trust that with the help of God we can ensure that the Greek people emerge from the crisis as soon as possible.” He said he would press his new Cabinet — expected to be named within a day — to work hard, with the aim of giving Greeks “tangible hope.”
“I am fully aware of the critical moments we face as a country,” Samaras said during the handover from the caretaker prime minister, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, adding that the Greek people were “injured” and needed “healing.”
Syriza signaled immediate tough opposition, bluntly stating that the new government would not be able to renegotiate the country’s loan deal. The new administration has been “built on the basis of continuing the policies of the memorandum,” it said, referring to the debt deal.
The president of the National Bank of Greece, Vassilis Rapanos, was expected to be named Greece’s new finance minister. But in a sign of the challenges the new government will face, Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK leader and a former finance minister who negotiated Greece’s second debt deal with foreign creditors, said his party would not contribute politicians to the new Cabinet — clearly an effort to avoid being associated with any additional austerity measures. Leaders of the Democratic Left made similar statements earlier.
The new Greek government came together the day before European finance ministers gathered in Luxembourg on Thursday to discuss Greece’s troubles, which have exacerbated Europe’s debt crisis by sowing doubts about the financial viability of two big eurozone economies, Spain and Italy.
The political turmoil in Athens has also been a thorn in the side of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is facing a bailout-weary public as Germany foots a growing bill for the euro crisis. Greece is expected to need even more financial assistance from European taxpayers as its economy continues to stumble.
The new government will face a daunting double mandate: to enforce the loan agreement with foreign creditors — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the nations of the European Union — while renegotiating enough of the bailout to keep the government in power despite mounting social unrest.
Greece has repeatedly missed targets and dragged its feet on painful structural reforms like reducing its vast public sector, improving haphazard tax collection, and raising billions of euros through privatizations.
But given the distress the austerity package has wrought, the so-called troika of creditors has signaled willingness to discuss bailout terms more adapted to a rapidly unraveling economy.
Elizabeth Prodromou, a professor of international relations at Boston University who closely follows Greece and the eastern Mediterranean countries, said the strength and duration of Samaras’ government would rest on its ability to quickly broker a renegotiation before the country runs out of money and faces potential shortages of basic goods like medicine.
“This is a make-or-break moment for New Democracy and PASOK,” Prodromou said. “For the last 38 years, these two governments have alternated power. Now is the time for them to demonstrate they are doing something positive for the Greek economy and for society.”