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Greece appoints new Shipping Minister Fotis Kouvelis

Greece has its third Shipping and Island Policy Minister since the left wing government came to power in January 2015. Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, August 28, promoted alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis, to the helm of the Shipping Ministry, replacing Panagiotis Kouroumplis.

Kouvelis, 70, is a colourful independent, has no known knowledge of shipping, and has flirted with politics across the board, though usually on the left.

He takes over the Piraeus portfolio as the country’s seafarers reiterated they will go ahead with a planned 24-hour strike 3 on September. A meeting of the Panhellenic Seamens Federation (PNO) at the time of Kouvelis' appointment decided to go ahead with the action, though owners of ferries working in the domestic network claim it will leave 180,000 passengers, 50,000 cars and over 3,000 trucks stranded. Indeed, the seafarers have threatened to extend their action past just one day.

The Association of Greek Passenger Shipping Companies (SEEN) in a letter, August 21, to the PNO, proposed the renewal of the workers’ collective labour contract. Seafarers are demanding salary hikes and tax breaks. SEEN points out that of the 14 PNO demands, 12 concern other competent bodies and can only be solved "as part of a general change in government policy for workers and pensioners".

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Kouroumplis, 66, had been Minister since November 2016, having replaced Thodoris Dritsas. The outgoing Minister, a veteran socialist and ex-Interior Minister and Social Solidarity Minister, becomes the ruling Syriza party’s parliamentary spokesman. Long standing deputy Shipping Minister, Nektarios Santorinios, remains in his position, though his title changes to alternate Minister.

With a general election scheduled for next spring, but expected to happen sooner Tsipras' close associates stayed though some new faces were brought in while key ministry posts in the 53-strong cabinet were untouched. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos all kept their jobs.

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