Giuseppe Conte approved as Italian prime minister

Designated Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (2-R) addresses the media after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, 23 May 2018. [Ettore Ferrrari/EPA/EFE]

Italy’s president on Wednesday (23 May) approved little-known lawyer Giuseppe Conte’s nomination to be prime minister of a government formed by far-right and anti-establishment parties.

“The President of the Republic has tasked me with the role of forming a government,” Conte said to reporters after a nearly two-hour meeting with President Sergio Mattarella.

Conte’s appointment could herald an end to more than two months of political uncertainty in the eurozone’s third-biggest economy — but the coalition’s eurosceptic and anti-immigrant stance has alarmed senior European officials.

However, 53-year-old Conte, unveiled Monday as anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and nationalist Lega Nord’s pick for premier, sought a more conciliatory tone towards Europe when speaking to journalists at the presidential Quirinal palace.

Italian president hesitates as novice put forward as premier

Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League on Monday (21 May) proposed Giuseppe Conte, a little-known law professor, as prime minister to lead their big-spending coalition government.

“I’m aware of the necessity to confirm Italy’s place, both in Europe and internationally,” said Conte, who cast himself as the “people’s lawyer”.

“My intent is to give life to a government of the people that looks after their interests. I’m ready to defend the interests of Italians in Europe and internationally, maintaining dialogue with European institutions and representatives of other countries.”

Conte, who hails from 5-Star, said that he would present head-of-state Mattarella with his cabinet, which has been the subject of days of tough negotiations between 5-Star and the League, within “the next few days”.

The list of ministerial candidates must be endorsed by Mattarella before it can seek parliamentary approval.

Italian media reported that League chief Matteo Salvini would become interior minister while 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio will be in charge of the economic development ministry.

EU concerns

Mattarella was reportedly concerned about the plan to name Paolo Savona as economy minister.

Minister for industry between 1993-94, Savona, 81, was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and has said he considers the euro currency a “German cage”.

The joint government programme unveiled by the parties on Friday pledges significant anti-austerity measures such as drastic tax cuts, a monthly basic income and pension reform rollbacks, which Di Maio and Salvini claim will boost growth.

EU officials have voiced concern that Italy could trigger a new eurozone crisis by refusing to stick to public spending and debt targets set by Brussels.

Pierre Moscovici, the EU Economic Affairs Commissioner, said on Wednesday that Italy must deliver a “credible” response on how it will reduce its debt, the eurozone’s second largest in proportion to GDP.

The Milan stock exchange lost 1.31% Wednesday, while the difference in yield on Italian 10-year sovereign bonds compared to Germany’s has increased 60 base points to 191 in just eight days — a sign of increasing investor concern for Italy’s financial stability.

The government programme also plans to speed up expulsions of illegal immigrants and crack down on trafficking.

Nearly 700,000 people have landed in Italy since the migrant crisis exploded in 2013.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels: “We judge governments as governments not on what they announce but on what they will do. But we remain attentive to safeguard the rights of the Africans who are in Italy.”

CV scandal

Almost immediately after being named as candidate for PM by the parties, Conte was plunged into scandal over doubts about his claims to have studied at some of the world’s top universities.

In a CV posted on the website of a lawyers’ association Conte said that he “furthered his juridical studies” at Yale, New York University (NYU), Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Cambridge.

NYU told AFP that their records did not “reflect Giuseppe Conte having been at the university as a student or having an appointment as a faculty member”.

It said he was granted permission to conduct research in the institution’s law library between 2008 and 2014.

Duquesne University told AFP he attended as part of an affiliation with Villa Nazareth, an exchange programme, and did legal research but “was not enrolled as a student”.

Conte has not spoken publicly about the affair, but was staunchly defended by Salvini and in particular Di Maio.

He said: “Good luck to Giuseppe Conte, the lawyer-defender of the Italian people. Change has never been so close!”

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