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Greek conservative government sworn in

File photo of Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Athens, Greece Jul 09, 2019, 10.01 PM (IST)

Greece's new conservative government was sworn in on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis took office vowing to turn the page on a decade of economic crisis.

The 51 members of the new government swore the oath of office on the Bible in a ceremony led by the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos, in line with Greek tradition.

That further underlined the break with the term of defeated leftist prime minister Alexis Tsipras, an atheist, who had taken the oath in a civil ceremony in 2015.

Mitsotakis, a pro-business conservative, has vowed to ditch Tsipras's proposals to separate Church and state.

Among those sworn into government on Tuesday was Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, 45, who will have a key role in Mitsotakis's pro-growth reforms.

Staïkouras stressed the need "to boost growth, attract investment while reducing the tax burden on households and businesses".

"There are questions which remain unresolved, but we will be working hard to reduce the uncertainties, to attract investors, to create jobs," the 45-year-old economist assured.

Tsipras presided over austerity policies under Greece's third international bailout as it struggled in the global financial crisis.

The US-educated Mitsotakis faces a hefty challenge as he takes over from Tsipras, who imposed austerity measures required under a bailout to keep Greece in the eurozone.

Unemployment eased during his term but remains high at 18 per cent. The country's debt level stands at more than 180 per cent of output.

The debt load is forecast to fall to 168 per cent of GDP this year, but only through the belt-tightening brought in under Tsipras's Syriza party, policies which Mitsotakis's New Democracy party says are stifling growth.

No grace period

"We don't ask for a grace period, we ask to be judged rigorously on the basis of the results of out policies," Mitsotakis said.

Reducing tax levels was one of the main promises of Mitsotakis and his team during the election campaign.

The day after Sunday's election victory, Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno urged the new Greek government to stick to reforms and strict public spending commitments, which were agreed with its eurozone creditors during a punishing decade of bailouts.

"We must keep our commitments, this is the only way I know to gain credibility," Centeno told reporters in Brussels on the day Mitsotakis was sworn in on a promise to ease up on austerity mandated by the eurozone.

The heart of the challenge is the promise made by Greece to the eurozone to deliver a budget primary surplus of 3.5 per cent for the next several years -- an extremely high bar of fiscal rectitude.

The spending target is a cornerstone of the third bailout programme that Greece formally exited in August 2018 but has committed to delivering on until 2022.

Also, still owing billions of euros in bailout loans, Greece remains under 'post-programme surveillance' by its creditors.

'Pleasant surprise'

Perceived as a reformer, and close to the business world, Mitsotakis told the French weekly L'Obs that he believes Greece will provide a "pleasant surprise" to its fellow eurozone members in the years to come.

Promising that parliament will work all summer, he said his government would put an emphasis on the digital economy and "computerise the Greek state".

Joseph Daul, head of the European parliament's biggest political grouping, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), said that the New Democracy government, with its pragmatic programme of reforms and investments, would help create jobs and "bring prosperity" to Greece.

Mitsotakis had telephone talks with several European leaders on Tuesday, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who invited him to Berlin nest month, according to the Greek president's team.

As is the tradition in Greece, his first foreign trip will be to Cyprus later this month.

The new government of 51 members includes 21 technocrats.

Mitsotakis himself is the son of former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, one of the country's longest-serving parliamentarians. His sister Dora Bakoyannis is a former minister and Athens's first female mayor.

And in a first even for a country accustomed to family links in politics, the recently-elected mayor of Athens is the incoming prime minister’s nephew.

Mitsotakis took charge of New Democracy three years ago. Following the election, his party will have a majority of 158 seats in the 300-member parliament.

New Democracy was last in power in 2014, in coalition with the Greek socialists.

Syriza's parliamentary presence will shrink from 144 seats to 86. Tsipras has promised to remain an "active" voice in opposition in defence of labour rights.

Story highlights

The 51 members of the new government swore the oath of office on the Bible in a ceremony led by the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos, in line with Greek tradition.