Italy president names Giuseppe Conte as populist PM

Italian President Sergio Mattarella approved the political novice's nomination for prime minister, bringing the country closer to its first'ever populist government

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

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has approved Giuseppe Conte’s nomination for prime minister, bringing Italy closer to its first-ever populist government.

Mattarella gave the candidate picked the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and League political parties a mandate to form a government on Wednesday, 80 days after Italy's inconclusive elections.

The 53-year-old has faced claims that he embellished his CV, which he denies.

He has also faced controversy over unpaid taxes and fines of over €50,000. Conte must now put together a list of cabinet ministers, which the president will approve before the government can face confidence votes in Italy’s two house of parliament.

"I'm preparing myself now to defend the interests of all Italians in all places, in Europe and internationally," Conte told reporters after receiving his mandate. "I will be the defence lawyer for the Italian people." 

Italy has been without a government since elections on 4 March, because no political group could form a majority.

Five Star Movement and League's leaders - Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, respectively - refrained from nominating themselves as prime minister, picking the 54-year-old university professor with little political experience instead.

Di Maio and Salvini are expected to take up top ministerial positions.

Concerns remain over the two parties, which reject years of EU austerity and want to renegotiate Italy's debt.

"Italy needs to continue to reduce its public debt which is indeed second highest in the EU after Greece," the European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said on Wednesday.

Speaking in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "We judge governments not on what they announce but on what they will do. But we remain attentive to safeguard the rights of the Africans who are in Italy."

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