August 31, 2015 / 2:01 PM / 2 years ago

Greece's 'invisible negotiator' may assuage bailout fears in election run-up

ATHENS (Reuters) - The appointment of Greek bailout negotiator George Chouliarakis to be finance minister in a caretaker government may help assuage some fears that Greece's bailout program could go off track while it prepares for elections.

Greece is due to hold elections on Sept.20 after former prime minister Alexis Tsipras resigned in a bid to win popular backing for his decision to accept the 86-billion-euro ($96 billion) aid plan from creditors and get rid of leftist rebels opposed to it.

But with European and International Monetary Fund lenders inspectors due to review Greece's progress under the bailout in October, having weeks of election campaigning raised fears that Athens could once again fall behind on targets set under the plan.

Chouliarakis, who played a key role in technical-level talks with EU and IMF lenders, sought to address those concerns when he took over as interim finance minister on Friday saying his main target was "to make sure we won't lose valuable time".

His appointment quickly won a vote of confidence from Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the group of euro zone finance ministers that decides on aid disbursements to Greece.

"(Chouliarakis) knows what he's doing because he was top man in the ministry for the past year and half," Dijsselbloem said.

An economist by training, Chouliarakis taught economics in Britain at the University of Essex before taking up a post as lecturer on European economic integration at the University of Manchester.

Notoriously media-shy, Chouliarakis preferred to toil away from the limelight during months of tough negotiations between Greece and its foreign lenders this year, which prompted some in the Greek media to call him "the invisible negotiator".

"You don't see Mr. Chouliarakis very often but you all know of him. Yes, he is a real person - because some of you have asked me if he exists," former finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos said jokingly on Friday while handing over the finance ministry to him.

"I am certain that with his work, as always, and with his devotion to the public good it would be difficult to think of a better interim finance minister, someone who loves what he does and does it very well."

Well-respected by Greece's European creditors, Chouliarakis was given a more decisive role in the talks after former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was sidelined earlier this year.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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