* Cabinet reshuffle expected as early as this week
* Finance minister considered for Bank of Greece post
* PM Samaras seeks to regain momentum after EU vote loss
By Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS, June 2 Greek Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras will reshuffle his cabinet as early as this week in a
bid to wrest back political momentum, and his widely respected
finance minister could be among those set to depart, government
officials told Reuters on Monday.
Samaras, whose conservative party lost the EU election last
month to the radical leftist Syriza, is expected to use the
reshuffle to show Greeks he has heeded their message at the
ballot, which was seen as a test of faith in the government.
All eyes are on whether economist Yannis Stournaras, who has
led negotiations with Greece's EU/IMF lenders and is credited
with spearheading the country's return to fiscal discipline
after it nearly went bankrupt, will remain as finance minister.
Four government officials said Samaras was discussing
whether to keep Stournaras in the job, with one official saying
it had been decided that he would leave, though the others
cautioned that no final decision had been made yet.
Stournaras himself is eager to leave the finance ministry
after the twin successes of returning Athens to the bond market
after four years and reporting a primary budget surplus, though
he is also considered best placed to lead crucial debt relief
talks later this year, two other senior officials told Reuters.
"The finance ministry, which is crucial, and ministries
handling social policies are expected to be the portfolios most
affected," one of the four government sources said.
"It makes sense for Stournaras to leave after completing a
series of tasks, with things coming full circle in terms of
saving the country and achieving the bailout targets. But
handling the debt talks also remains an open issue."
If he were to leave, Stournaras is expected to go to the
Bank of Greece, where governor George Provopoulos's term expires
on June 21, two of the government officials said.
"The key decision in the reshuffle is that of the position
of the finance minister. We should expect an announcement from
Thursday onwards," one of the other government officials said.
None of the four sources said who might replace Stournaras.
Stournaras himself has so far said nothing on the issue
other than that it was Samaras's decision. Asked last week
whether he would draft the budget later this year, he said:
"This is for the prime minister to decide."
Party officials say the reshuffle could also offer Samaras
an opportunity to lure back defecting lawmakers to provide more
explicit support to the ruling coalition, which has only a
two-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament.
Former coalition lawmakers who are now independent are among
those considered potential candidates for various ministerial
Samaras, who has led an unwieldy right-left coalition of his
New Democracy conservatives and Socialist PASOK party since
2012, has been on the back foot since Syriza triumphed in the EU
vote, propelled to victory by voters' angry about austerity
measures imposed at the behest of EU/IMF lenders.
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos
confirmed that a reshuffle was on the cards but gave no details.
(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Louise Ireland)