Tuesday, 19 February, 2019

Giuseppe Conte made Italy's new PM

23 May 2018, 22:28 ( 9 Months ago)

DF-Xinhua Report by Stefania Fumo
Giuseppe Conte addresses a press conference after meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, on May 23, 2018. Photo Xinhua.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday named law professor Giuseppe Conte as Italy's new prime minister, tasking him with a mandate to form a new government.

   Conte was put forward by the rightwing League and the populist Five Star Movement, the two top vote-getters in Italy's March 4 election, as their choice for prime minister earlier this week.

   "The president of the Republic has conferred a mandate to form a government on Professor Giuseppe Conte," presidential secretary Ugo Zampetti said after the president and the professor met for almost two hours. "Professor Conte has accepted."

   "I am aware of the need to confirm Italy's European and international placement," a visibly nervous Conte said in a four-minute speech shortly after that. "The government will have to engage straight away in ongoing negotiations on the European budget, asylum rights reform, and completion of (EU) banking union."

   As a lawyer, Conte said, he has "pled the cases of many people" in his life so far.

   "I will now defend the interests of all Italians, in every forum, both European and international," he said. "I propose to become the defense lawyer of the Italian people."

   Conte added that he will meet with Mattarella in "the coming days" to present him with a list of cabinet ministers.

   A relatively obscure academic aged in his early 50s, Conte teaches private law at Florence University and has zero experience in politics or public administration.

   He will lead a coalition seeking radical tax cuts, generous welfare spending, and a roll-back in pension reforms -- a program that has sparked turmoil on financial markets and driven Italy's borrowing costs up in recent days.

   His candidacy hit a snag Tuesday after international media reported that he had inflated or misrepresented some of the claims on his lengthy curriculum. However, the League and the Five Stars stood by him.

   After Conte and Mattarella discuss the cabinet line-up, the next step is for the new government to win a confidence vote in each house of parliament -- the 315-member Senate and the 630-member Chamber of Deputies.

   The timing of this vote will depend on how long Conte will need to form his cabinet, but could take place sometime next week, local media said.

   According to press reports, the rightwing-populist executive will be made up of 18 ministers, with League chief Matteo Salvini to enforce his party's anti-immigrant policies as interior minister and Five Star leader Di Maio to roll out the Movement's flagship pledge of a universal basic income, as the head of a possible joint labor-industry ministry.

   Today's move follows on a number of false starts and failed consultations, almost 80 days after the general election that delivered no clear winner and left parliament divided into three blocs -- the center-right, the populists, and the center-left.

   Conte first emerged from relative obscurity days before the general election, when Di Maio introduced him in a televised event as the Movement's candidate for the post of "civil service, de-bureaucratization and meritocracy minister."

   "Traditionally, my heart has always beaten to the left," Conte said on a recent talk show, meaning that he has leftist political sympathies.