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POLITICS

Giuseppe Conte approved as Italian prime minister

Italy's president on Wednesday approved the nomination as prime minister of little-known lawyer Giuseppe Conte, who said that he wanted his government to "confirm Italy's place" in Europe and the rest of the world.

Giuseppe Conte approved as Italian prime minister
Italian lawyer Giuseppe Conte leaves after meeting with Italy's President Sergio Mattarella. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“The President of the Republic has tasked me with the role of forming a government,” Conte said to reporters after leaving a nearly two-hour meeting with President Sergio Mattarella.

Conte must now finalize his cabinet, which has been the subject of days of tough negotiations between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League coalition that makes up the proposed government.

The list of ministerial candidates must then be endorsed by head-of-state Mattarella before it can seek parliamentary approval.

Conte's appointment could bring an end to more than two months of political uncertainty in the eurozone's third-biggest economy.

The Five Star-League alliance's eurosceptic stance has alarmed senior European officials, but Conte sought a more conciliatory tone towards Europe when speaking to journalists at the presidential Quirinal palace.

“I'm aware of the necessity to confirm Italy's place, both in Europe and internationally,” he said.


Conte is pictured speaking to Italian press. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“My intent is to give life to a government of the people that looks after their interests. I'm ready to defend the interests of Italians in Europe and internationally, maintaining dialogue with European institutions and representatives of other countries.”

Conte, who hails from Five Star, said that he would present head-of-state Mattarella with his cabinet, which has been the subject of days of tough negotiations between Five Star and the League, within “the next few days”.

The list of ministerial candidates must be endorsed by Mattarella before it can seek parliamentary approval.

Italian media reported that League chief Matteo Salvini would become interior minister while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio will be in charge of the economic development ministry.

Mattarella was reportedly concerned about the plan to name Paolo Savona as economy minister. Minister for industry between 1993-94, Savona, 81, was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and has said he considers the euro currency a “German cage”.

The joint government programme unveiled by the parties on Friday pledges significant anti-austerity measures such as drastic tax cuts, a monthly basic income and pension reform rollbacks, which Di Maio and Salvini claim will boost growth.

EU officials have voiced concern that Italy could trigger a new eurozone crisis by refusing to stick to public spending and debt targets set by Brussels.

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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