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Italy awaits president’s decision on new prime minister

Giuseppe Conte arrived for a meeting with Italy's president on Wednesday evening, with an announcement expected shortly afterwards on whether he will appoint the little-known lawyer to lead a government formed by far-right and anti-establishment groups.

Italy awaits president's decision on new prime minister
Giuseppe Conte arrives for the meeting on Wednesday. Photo: FRANCESCO AMMENDOLA / QUIRINALE PRESS OFFICE / AFP

Italian media said claims that Conte had exaggerated his CV had delayed President Sergio Mattarella's decision on whether to approve him as premier. Media also reported there were worries over the choice of an anti-euro economy minister by the parties, whose combative stance towards Brussels has caused fears for European financial stability.

But Mattarella summoned Conte to the presidential palace at 5.30 pm.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the anti-immigrant League nominated Conte, 54, for premier on Monday. But scandal soon struck over doubts about his claims to have studied at certain top world universities.

“Conte betrayed by his CV,” ran a headline in left-leaning newspaper La Republicca. “The CV affair is open, Conte is hanging in the balance,” said Il Corriere della Sera.

The parties are seeking to form a coalition government in a bid to end two months of political deadlock following March's inconclusive general election.

Mattarella must agree to the parties' candidate and ministerial team before they can seek approval for the new government in parliament.

CV controversy

Conte's official CV says that he “furthered his juridical studies” at Yale, New York University (NYU), Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the Sorbonne and Cambridge, but some entries have been called into question.

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.

READ ALSO: Who is Giuseppe Conte, the political novice picked to become Italy's PM?


Giuseppe Conte (R) shakes hands with Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Cambridge University declined to give details about Conte. 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 yet to speak out publicly about the affair. Five Star has defended him as its choice to head a cabinet in which M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini are tipped to hold key posts.

“Conte is and absolutely remains Five Star and the League's prime ministerial candidate,” state news agency ANSA quoted Di Maio as saying on Wednesday.

EU worries

Salvini meanwhile defended the coalition's eurosceptic candidate for economy minister, Paolo Savona. Minister for industry between 1993-94, Savona was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and considers the euro a “German cage”.

“He is an expert with a solid background of studies but made the mistake of daring to say that the EU as it is isn't working,” Salvini said. “Why do you even bother to let us vote if when the people ask for radical change you tell us to be careful?”

READ ALSO:

European officials have expressed worry that Italy could trigger a new eurozone crisis by refusing to stick to public spending and debt targets set by Brussels. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Wednesday that Italy must deliver a “credible” response on how it will reduce debt.

Italy has one of the eurozone's highest levels of government debt and lowest growth rates. More than eight percent of its population lives in poverty, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Di Maio and Salvini's government programme pledges tax cuts and increased welfare spending to boost growth. It also plans to speed up expulsions of illegal immigrants.

On Tuesday Salvini said there would have to be new elections if the coalition government was not given the go-ahead by Mattarella.

“Either we start and we begin the change or we may as well go back to the polls,” he said in a live video on Facebook. 

READ ALSO: Here are the key proposals from the M5S-League government programme


M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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