Five Star and League rebuff questions over academic’s suitability ‘[President] Mattarella may say “Conte is OK, but I want my hand on the ministers'”
Giuseppe Conte has been given a formal mandate to become Italy’s next prime minister, heading a coalition of two populist parties that is set to take power amid fears that it will challenge Rome’s relationship with Europe. The civil lawyer and academic received assent from Sergio Mattarella, president, to become premier after fending off criticism about his lack of political experience and allegations that he embellished his curriculum vitae. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League sealed an alliance to govern the eurozone’s third-largest economy last week, after separately posting big gains in Italy’s general election in March. Luigi Di Maio, Five Star leader, and Matteo Salvini, head of the League, identified the little-known Mr Conte as a compromise choice for premier this week after the Eurosceptic parties struck a deal on a common platform of fiscal expansion, curbs on immigration and a pro-Kremlin foreign policy shift. Policymakers across EU capitals have grown increasingly concerned as Five Star and the League have grown ever closer to power. Investors have abruptly sold Italian assets – a trend that continued yesterday, with shares falling and bond yields rising in a reflection of economic uncertainty. However, Eurosceptic politicians across the continent have hailed the ascent of Five Star and the League – the first time one of the eurozone’s largest economies will be government by such anti-establishment parties. The mandate handed to Mr Conte is not final. The 53 year-old professor from the University of Florence, who hails from a town in the southern province of Puglia, will have to return to Mr Mattarella with an acceptable slate of ministers to fill cabinet positions. If Mr Mattarella does not agree with the names, a stand-off could ensue. Doubts have already surfaced over Five Star and the League’s proposal of Paolo Savona, an octogenarian Eurosceptic economist, for finance minister. Mr Mattarella had opposed the choice. Giancarlo Giorgetti, Mr Salvini’s top aide and a senior MP, is now frontrunner to lead the finance ministry, according to one person familiar with the talks. “Mattarella may say ‘Conte is OK but I want my hand on the ministers’,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, co-founder of YouTrend, a political analysis firm. Once the cabinet is approved by the president, Mr Conte and the new government will be sworn in, with the final hurdle being a vote of confidence in both houses of parliament. After Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini proposed Mr Conte as prime minister on Monday, doubts about his suitability to the post had flared up, raising questions about whether the populist duo would back away from their candidate. However, Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini stuck by Mr Conte, putting pressure on Mr Mattarella to give him the mandate. Mr Di Maio said Mr Conte’s appointment sealed the beginning of a new political era – which he has described as Italy’s “Third Republic” – in which traditional ideologies have been supplanted by direct democracy. “We’re ready to go,” the League said in a statement. Analysts have questioned how effective Mr Conte will be as a political novice in a government where Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini – two young, vocal and ambitious leaders – would expect to make many decisions behind the scenes. “Five Star and the League made a deal on a platform but being in government means making hundreds of decisions every day,” said Mr Pregliasco.