Italy’s likely PM: entering the messy world of Italian politics

Giuseppe Conte: respected in legal and academic circles, can he survive in government?

Italian prime minister-designate Giuseppe Conte arrives to speak with media at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Italian prime minister-designate Giuseppe Conte arrives to speak with media at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on Wednesday. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

 

The man nominated as Italy’s prime minister on Wednesday may be respected in the legal and academic realms, but he is far removed from the complex, messy world of Italian politics – something that is of mounting concern to his parents.

“They are a little worried,” Vittoria Macchiarola, a childhood friend of his mother, told the Guardian. “He is already very important in his career, but look what happens when you get into politics: they throw mud.”

There was a lot of mud thrown this week when Giuseppe Conte (53) emerged as the surprise pick to lead a coalition of Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League, headed up by Matteo Salvini.

The lawyer and professor at the University of Florence was accused of embellishing his university studies on his CV, while reports emerged that he had supported Stamina, a discredited stem cell therapy invented by the disgraced former professor Davide Vannoni.

Beppe Grillo, the comedian who founded M5S, slammed the claims as “malicious gossip”. Conte’s ex-wife, with whom he has a 10-year-old son, also leapt to his defence, saying accusations over his CV and Stamina were “rubbish”.

‘Attentive’

Patrizia Giunti, a friend and colleague at the University of Florence, described Conte as “attentive, generous and very graceful”. “He’s much loved by his students,” Giunti said.

“We have been friends and colleagues for years and I have never heard him speak with a raised voice or get angry – he’s always soft, someone you mostly see with his mouth shut rather than open, but at the same time he is very effective.”

Conte was born in Volturara Appula, a town in the southern Puglia region where 73 per cent of the population of about 500 voted for M5S in the March 4th elections. Childhood friend Antonio Placentino told local reporters that he “studied hard at school and was very reserved”. “He has always been very elegant; even at school he was impeccably dressed,” he added.

Conte graduated from Rome’s Sapienza University in 1988 and now lives in the capital, where he runs a law firm. He is an expert in arbitration, particularly in the areas of civil and commercial law. Between 2012 and 2015 he served on the board of the Italian Space Agency.

Conte came into contact with M5S in 2013, the year the party entered parliament for the first time, when he was asked to become a member of its council for administrative law. Di Maio (31) had also earmarked him for the role of minister of public administration when he announced the party’s would-be cabinet lineup ahead of the elections. Conte told reporters in February that until 2013 he had been a left-wing voter.

He is thought to be the mastermind behind Di Maio’s pledge to abolish 400 “useless laws” in order to cut Italy’s infamous red tape and free up the economy.

A passionate fan of AS Roma, Conte is said to also be deeply spiritual and devoted to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

Italian media reported that he is also a fan of John F Kennedy, with his WhatsApp profile containing a quote from the assassinated US president: “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” – Guardian

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