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Italy’s next prime minister could be a mostly unknown law professor

Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Lega party have reportedly agreed on who the next prime minister should be — taking another step closer to implementing their governing coalition and restoring a political structure to the country.

Speculation is rife that M5S and Lega’s leaders, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, have chosen a private law professor Giuseppe Conte as the new prime minister. Relatively unknown in political and public life, even Italian newspapers are publishing profiles and biographies on the professor to give the country’s voters the lowdown on their next possible leader.

The 54-year-old comes from the Apulia region of southeast Italy and graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome after studying law, before “perfecting” his studies at places like Yale, Duquesne, the International Kultur Institut in Vienna, La Sorbonne in France, Cambridge and New York University, according to a profile page.

But the Corriere della Sera newspaper stated that while Conte has “a very long curriculum (vitae)” he doesn’t “have a clue about politics.” The newspaper did concede that Conte “is certainly a technician” and has experience in business and administrative, financial and civil law. La Stampa newspaper added that he has been the director of “numerous legal journals.”

In addition, the paper noted that Conte is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Italian Notary Foundation, was a part of the Board of the Italian Space Agency and in 2013 the Parliament appointed him as a member of the Board of Directors of Administrative Justice.

Meanwhile, La Repubblica newspaper noted that Conte’s CV states that he is also an expert on “managing large companies in crisis,” which the paper noted “will be useful in events such as Ilva or Alitalia.” Ilva is an Italian steel company going through a pollution scandal and Alitalia is national airline that recently went bankrupt.

Conte has taught extensively in Italy and currently lectures in private law at universities in Florence and Bologna.

A friend of M5S

Conte’s name was initially flagged up by M5S just ahead of the election in March when the movement’s leader, Di Maio, stated that the professor would be nominated as minister for public administration and simplification (a ministry charged with simplifying laws and regulations) in any M5S-led administration.

During the election campaign, Di Maio had called Conte a “sburocratizzatore” — akin to a “de-bureaucratizer” — while Conte himself declared during the campaign that Italy needs to “abolish useless laws” (he said there were more than the 400 indicated by Di Maio) and that Italy’s anti-corruption laws need to be strengthened. He also stated that reforms to transform poorly-performing schools must be introduced.

Ahead of the election, Di Maio denied that a cabinet featuring experts and academics like Conte (and other professors then tipped to lead various ministries) would represent a technocratic cabinet, arguing instead that people like Conte “know what they are talking about,” Reuters reported.

Now, with M5S’ all-but certain coalition with the Lega party, Di Maio and Salvini are expected to present Conte as their candidate for prime minister, as well as a proposed cabinet formed of M5S and Lega ministers. They will seek approval from Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella Monday.

Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant, euroskeptic Lega party, confirmed the deal over the leadership on Sunday, posting a message on Facebook stating, “We’ve closed the deal on the prime minister and ministers this morning.”

The Lega leader did not give the names of the candidates but Conte is expected to be premier with Salvini taking the interior minister post and Di Maio becoming a minister for economic development or labor (and a possible melding of the two posts), according to Italian newspapers. The economy ministry would reportedly go to Giancarlo Giorgetti.

Inconclusive election in March

Di Maio and Salvini’s decision to elect a prime minister rather than take the role themselves comes after a delicate process of negotiation in a bid to form a coalition government in Italy after an inconclusive election in March. Obstacles have been presented by political alliances and antipathies along the way.

M5S was the single most popular party in the election but Lega was the most popular party in a coalition of far-right and center-right parties, which included former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

After multiple insults traded between Berlusconi and M5S’ Di Maio, however, a possible coalition between M5S and the center-right coalition looked unlikely, leaving Lega’s Salvini to take the lead and Berlusconi and other coalition partners seemingly out in the cold.

The alliance between Lega and M5S has yet to be tested, however, and could spell trouble for Europe with the maverick parties announcing Friday plans to increase public spending. They are also expected to call for an end to sanctions on Russia and want to renegotiate how much Italy pays into the EU budget — all plans that could create headaches for the European Union and euro zone.

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