Kammenos: from conservative rebel to Greek PM's unlikely ally

Odile Duperry
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Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos says a bailout debt must come by June 18

Panos Kammenos, whose nationalist Independent Greeks party has entered into an unlikely coalition government with the radical left-wing Syriza, once walked the corridors of parliament wearing a T-shirt that read: "Greece is not for sale."

At first glance, the bombastic 49-year-old leader of the ANEL party and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Syriza may seem strange bedfellows, but both are vehemently anti-austerity and equally determined to renegotiate the country's international bailout.

The burly politician's decision to immediately ally his party with Syriza following Sunday's election saw him rewarded with defence minister's post in the new government unveiled on Tuesday.

A former junior shipping minister, Kammenos's political career began in 1993 when he was elected member of parliament for the conservative New Democracy party in his hometown of Athens.

After six consecutive terms, Kammenos broke away from the conservative party of former premier Antonis Samaras in 2012 after clashing over the country's international rescue programme, which led to the introduction of painful austerity measures for ordinary Greeks.

Kammenos promptly founded his own party, which agreed on Monday to become Syriza's partner in government -- Greece's new odd couple.

Together ANEL and Syriza -- which was just two seats short of an absolute majority in the 300-member parliament after Sunday's vote -- now have 162 lawmakers.

But analysts say ANEL could prove to be something of a time-bomb, unpredictable at best, and that governing with the party could also disrupt the balance among the various left-wing factions that make up Syriza.

A French-educated economist, Kammenos is no stranger to controversy and has frequently run into trouble after firing off sometimes wild allegations.

He is fond of conspiracy theories, blaming shadowy international plots for Greece's economic plight and frequently accusing some Socialist politicians of backing a homegrown terror group in a country where anarchism has deep roots.

- 'Germany's concubines' -

But most of Kammenos' opprobrium is these days reserved for Germany, the country seen as the driving force behind the austerity push, and which he says treats its European partners as "concubines".

Devoutly Christian Orthodox, Kammenos has been accused of anti-Semitism after he alleged in December that Jews enjoyed preferential tax treatment in Greece.

Kammenos has vowed to end "the humiliation" of painful spending cuts and reforms imposed on Greece in return for the 240-billion-euro bailout ($270 billion) from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

"Panos Kammenos is deeply patriotic... without being a nationalist in the bad sense of the word," said Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of the French anti-EU group Debout la France, the French equivalent of ANEL.

"He is not anti-European, he is anti-EU," he added. "There's a difference."

Kammenos's party -- which won 13 seats in Sunday's election -- has made heavy use of social media to reach out to voters.

And Kammenos himself has turned to the Internet to directly swat down critics.

"You are a mud-slinger," he once tweeted to a user who claimed that Kammenos had demanded a state apartment during his short government term. He once also "blocked" another man who mocked his spelling skills.

Despite his fiery exterior, Kammenos has revealed an organised, even calculating, streak -- not least in the speed with which he agreed to partner Syriza in government.