Giuseppe Conte

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Giuseppe Conte
Giuseppe Conte Official.jpg
58th Prime Minister of Italy
Assumed office
1 June 2018
President Sergio Mattarella
Deputy Luigi Di Maio
Matteo Salvini
Preceded by Paolo Gentiloni
Personal details
Born (1964-08-08) 8 August 1964 (age 53)
Volturara Appula, Italy
Political party Independent[1]
Spouse(s) Valentina Fico (div.)[2]
Domestic partner Olivia Paladino[3]
Children 1
Residence Palazzo Chigi
Alma mater Sapienza University
Occupation
Website Official website

Giuseppe Conte (Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈzɛppe ˈkonte]; born 8 August 1964) is an Italian jurist and politician serving as the 58th and current Prime Minister of Italy since 1 June 2018.[4]

A professor of private law, Conte was first proposed on 21 May 2018 for the role of Prime Minister as the head of a coalition government between the Five Star Movement and the League,[5] but he relinquished his role when Paolo Savona, who was picked for Minister of Economy and Finance, was vetoed by President Sergio Mattarella.[6] On 31 May, the two parties reached an agreement, proposing Giovanni Tria as Minister of Economy and Finances, and Conte was called to take the oath of office on the following day.[7]

According to many journalists and political commentators, Conte's cabinet is the first populist government in Western Europe.[8][9][10] Moreover, he was the first person to assume the premiership without prior government or administrative service since Silvio Berlusconi in 1994 and the first Prime Minister from Southern Italy since the Christian Democrat Ciriaco De Mita in 1989.[11][12]

Early life and career

Conte was born on 8 August 1964 into a middle class family at Volturara Appula, near Foggia.[13][14] His father Nicola was a public employee in the local municipality while his mother Lillina Roberti was an elementary school teacher.[15][16]

After his family moved to San Giovanni Rotondo, Conte attended the Classical Lyceum "Pietro Giannone" in nearby San Marco in Lamis and then studied Law at the La Sapienza University of Rome, where he graduated in 1988 with distinction.[17][18][19] For short terms, Conte studied abroad. In 1992, he moved to the United States to study at Yale Law School and Duquesne University and at the International Culture Institute in Vienna in 1993. He later attended Sorbonne University in 2000, Girton College, Cambridge in 2001 and New York University in 2008.[20][21]

He started his academic career during the 1990s, when he taught at Roma Tre University, at LUMSA University of Rome, at the University of Malta and at the University of Sassari.[18] Conte is currently professor of private law at the University of Florence and at LUISS of Rome.[22][23] He sits on the board of trustees of John Cabot University in Rome.[24]

On 18 September 2013, he was elected by the Chamber of Deputies as a member of the Bureau of Administrative Justice, the self-governing body of administrative magistrates.[25]

Government formation

Conte at the Quirinal Palace in May 2018 to form the government

In early 2018, Conte was selected by Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), as the future possible Minister of Public Administration in his cabinet following the 2018 general election.[26] However, the election resulted in a hung parliament,[27] with the M5S that became the party with the largest number of votes and of parliamentary seats while the centre-right alliance in which Matteo Salvini's League emerged as the main political force won a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. The centre-left coalition led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came third.[28]

On 9 May, after weeks of political deadlock and the failure of various attempts of forming cabinets both between M5S–Centre-right and M5S–Democratic Party, Di Maio and Salvini responded to President Sergio Mattarella's ultimatum to appoint a neutral technocratic caretaker government by officially requesting that he allow them 24 more hours to achieve a governing agreement between their two parties.[29][30] Later that same day in the evening, Silvio Berlusconi publicly announced Forza Italia would not support a M5S–League government on a vote of confidence, but he would still maintain the centre-right alliance nonetheless, thus opening the doors to a possible majority government between the two parties.[31]

On 13 May, M5S and League reached an agreement in principle on a government program, likely clearing the way for the formation of a governing coalition between the two parties, but could not find an agreement regarding the members of a government cabinet, most importantly the Prime Minister. M5S and League leaders met with President Sergio Mattarella on 14 May to guide the formation of a new government.[32] On their meeting with President Mattarella, both parties asked for an additional week of negotiations to agree on a detailed government program and a Prime Minister to lead the joint government. Both M5S and the League announced their intention to ask their respective members to vote on the government agreement by the weekend.[33][34]

On 21 May, Conte was proposed by Di Maio and Salvini for the role of Prime Minister in the 2018 Italian government,[35][36][37] despite reports in the Italian press suggesting that President Mattarella still had significant reservations about the direction of the new government.[38] On 23 May, Conte was invited to the Quirinal Palace to receive the presidential mandate to form a new cabinet.[39][40] In the traditional statement after the appointment, Conte said that he would be the "defense lawyer of Italian people".[41]

Conte with President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace

On 27 May, Conte renounced to his office due to contrasts between Salvini and President Mattarella. Salvini proposed the university professor Paolo Savona as Minister of Economy and Finances, but Mattarella strongly opposed him, considering Savona too Eurosceptic and anti-German.[42] In his speech after Conte's resignation, Mattarella declared that the two parties wanted to bring Italy out of the Eurozone and as the guarantor of Italian Constitution and country's interest and stability he could not allow this.[43][44]

On the following day, Mattarella gave Carlo Cottarelli, a former director of the International Monetary Fund, the task of forming a new government.[45] On 28 May, the Democratic Party (PD) announced that it would abstain from voting the confidence to Cottarelli while the M5S and the center-right parties Forza Italia (FI), Brothers of Italy (FdI) and the League announced their vote against.[46][47]

Cottarelli was expected to submit his list of ministers for approval to President Mattarella on 29 May. On 29 May and 30 May, he held only informal consultations with the President, waiting for the formation of a "political government".[48][49] Meanwhile, Salvini and Di Maio announced their willingness to restart the negotiations to form a political government and Giorgia Meloni, leader of FdI, gave her support to the initiative.[48][49][50] On May 31, M5S and the League declared of having reached an agreement about forming a new government without Paolo Savona as Finance Minister (he would became Minister of European affairs instead) and with Conte at its head.[51][52]

Prime Minister of Italy

Conte with Paolo Gentiloni during the swearing-in ceremony

On 1 June 2018, despite having no political experience whatsoever, Conte officially succeeded the Democrat Paolo Gentiloni at the head of the Italian government, swearing as new Prime Minister in the afternoon.[53] His cabinet was predominantly composed by members of the M5S and the League, but also by prominent independent technocrats like the Minister of Foreign Affairs Enzo Moavero Milanesi, who previously served as Minister of European Affairs in the government of Mario Monti, the university professor Giovanni Tria as Minister of Economy and Finances and the notable economist Paolo Savona, who served in the cabinet of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in the 1990s and currently known for his Eurosceptic views, that would become the new Minister of European Affairs.[54][55]

Both parties' leaders Salvini and Di Maio were appointed Deputy Prime Ministers. While the first became Minister of the Interior, with the main aim of drastically reducing the number of illegal immigrants, the latter served as Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies to introduce the universal basic income.[56][57]

The coalition of the two populist parties which Conte led was also known as Government of Change,[58] thanks to a document that summarized the electoral programmes of the two parties, which was called "Contract for the Government of Change".[59][60]

Conte with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in June 2018

During his speech before the investiture vote in the Italian Senate on 5 June, Conte announced his willingness to reduce illegal immigration and increase the contrast to human traffickers and smugglers. He also advocated a fight against political corruption, the introduction of a law which regulates the conflict of interests, a new bill which expands the right of self-defense, a taxes reduction and a drastic cut to politics's costs, thanks to the annuities' abolition.[61][62][63] Conte also proposed to lift off the international sanctions against Russia.[64]

The Senate approved the confidence vote with 171 votes in favor and 117 against, with 25 abstentions.[65] The cabinet was supported by M5S, Lega, two senators from Associative Movement Italians Abroad (MAIE) and two independents while the Democratic Party (PD), Forza Italia (FI), Free and Equal (LeU) and other small leftist parties voted against it. The far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) and other ten independent senators abstained.[66] On the following day, he received 350 votes in favor out of 630 in the Chamber of Deputies, 236 votes against and 35 abstained.[67] As in the Senate, PD, FI and LeU voted against the government while FdI abstained. Besides M5S and League, Conte received two votes from independent deputies and one vote from Vittorio Sgarbi, a notable and controversial member of Forza Italia who has always heavenly criticised the M5S, but decided to support the cabinet in respect of Salvini and with the hope that a M5S government could lead toward their failure.[68][69]

Economic policies

Conte among people affected by the 2016 Central Italy earthquakes

One of Conte's main proposals was the scheduled reform of the Italian tax system, mainly promoted by the League and characterized by the introduction of flat taxes for businesses and individuals, with a no-tax area for low-income households and some small corrections to keep some degree of tax progression as required by the Italian Constitution.[70][71] The government stressed that they will find the funds to implement it through the so-called "fiscal peace", that is a condonation.[72] However, many important economists[who?] and newspapers like Il Sole 24 Ore denounced that the condonation could not finance all the new tax system based on flat tax.[73]

Conte also announced more severe punishments for tax dodgers, which are a major problem in Italy.[74]

Immigration

A major problem faced by Conte upon becoming Prime Minister in 2018 was the high levels of illegal immigration to Italy. Since 2013, Italy had to absorb over 700,000 African migrants arriving by boat from Libya.[75][76] During his premiership, Conte and his Interior Minister Matteo Salvini promoted stricter policies regarding immigration and public security.[77]

After Conte's approval on 10 June 2018, Salvini announced the closure of Italian ports, stating: "Everyone in Europe is doing their own business, now Italy is also raising its head. Let's stop the business of illegal immigration".[78] The vessel Aquarius, which is operated jointly by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée and carried more than 600 migrants, was refused a port of disembarkation by the Italian authorities despite having been told to rescue the migrants by the same co-ordination centre. The Italian authority told the vessel to ask Malta to provide a disembarkation port, but Malta has also refused.[79] On the following day, the new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accepted the disputed migrant ship.[80] Conte accused French President Emmanuel Macron of hypocrisy after Macron said Italy was acting "irresponsibly" by refusing entry to migrants and suggested it had violated international maritime law.[81]

Foreign policy

Conte with President Donald Trump in June 2018

Since the beginning of his term as Prime Minister, Conte's foreign policy was characterized by a strong approach to Russia as he advocated the deletion of international sanctions, which according to him damage the Italian economy.[82] He also considered Russia a strategic partner in the fight against Islamic terrorism.[83] However, Conte stressed that under his leadership Italy will remain an active member of NATO and a close ally of the United States.[84]

On 8 and 9 June, Conte participated to his first G7 summit in Canada, hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.[85] During the summit, he was the only leader to back President Donald Trump and his proposal to readmit Russia into the G7.[86] However, he later assumed a more pro-European view, shared by the other five leaders, condemning Trump tariffs on steel and aluminium exported by the European Union.[87] On the following day, Conte was thanked for his positions on Russia and his populist stance by President Trump, who invited him to the White House.[88] After a few days, Trump praised Conte, describing him as a "really great" leader and "very strong on immigration".[89]

Political views

During an interview in 2018, Conte said he used to vote for the left before approaching the M5S during the early 2010s. He also added that today "the ideological schemes of the 20th century are no longer adequate to represent the current political system" and it should be "more important and correct to evaluate the work of a political force on how it is positioned on the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms".[90]

In his inaugural speech at the Senate on 5 June 2018,[91][92] in response to attacks on government political forces accused of being populist and anti-establishment, Conte replied that "if populism is the attitude of the ruling class to listen to the people's needs [...] and if anti-establishment means aiming at introducing a new system able to remove old privileges and encrusted power, well these political forces deserve both these epithets".[93][94][95]

He also opposed the "hypertrophy of Italian laws", advocating the repeal of useless laws and supported a simplification of bureaucracy.[96] Conte strongly opposed the school reform legislation promoted by Matteo Renzi's government in 2015, known as "The Good School", which he said must be completely revised.[97]

Conte is an observant Roman Catholic and a votary to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.[98]

Controversies

Conte in May 2018

On 21 May 2018, when the name of Conte was proposed to President Mattarella as candidate for Prime Minister,[36] The New York Times, questioning his summer stays at New York University (NYU) listed in his official curriculum vitae,[20] published an article asserting that a NYU spokeswoman did not find the name of Conte in university "records as either a student or faculty member".[99][100]

The following day, the Associated Press reported in an article published also by The New York Times that the NYU spokeswoman added that "while Mr. Conte had no official status at NYU, he was granted permission to conduct research in the NYU law library" during the period listed in his official curriculum vitae.[20][101] Similarly, the Duquesne University of Pittsburgh and the University of Malta found no record of him in their archives,[102] although it was confirmed that Conte held lectures at the old university building in Valletta, Malta for the Foundation for International Studies.[103] Yale University, contacted by another newspaper, also confirmed that he studied there for three months.[104]

Authored books

  • Il volontariato. Libertà dei privati e mediazione giuridica dello Stato. Rome: Pioda. 1996. 
  • Matrimonio civile e teoria della simulazione. Rome: Pioda. 1996. 
  • La simulazione del matrimonio nella teoria del negozio giuridico. Padua: CEDAM. 1999. 
  • Le regole della solidarità. Iniziative non profit dei privati e mediazione dei pubblici poteri. Rome: Pioda. 2001. 
  • Il danno non patrimoniale. Milan: Giuffrè. 2018. 
  • La formazione del contratto. Milan: Giuffrè. 2018. 

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  103. ^ "Italian prime minister candidate says he lectured in Malta - but the University has no record of him". Times of Malta. 22 May 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018. 
  104. ^ Sarcina, Giuseppe (25 May 2018). "Conte e il curriculum, Yale conferma: «Visiting scholar per tre mesi»". Corriere della Sera. Retrieved 2 June 2018. 

External links

  • University of Florence personal page (including CV and publication list in English)
  • Giuseppe Conte publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier. (subscription required)
Political offices
Preceded by
Paolo Gentiloni
Prime Minister of Italy
2018–present
Incumbent
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Roberto Fico
as President of the Chamber of Deputies
Order of precedence of Italy
as Prime Minister
Succeeded by
Giorgio Lattanzi
as President of the Constitutional Court
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