IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Giuseppe Conte survives resume controversy to become Italy's PM

Giuseppe Conte's mandate gives the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement and anti-immigrant League a shot at running western Europe's first populist government.
Law professor Giuseppe Conte is Italy's new prime minister.Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images

ROME— A law professor who has never held political office was named as Italy's prime minister on Wednesday after surviving accusations he inflated his academic credentials.

Giuseppe Conte, who is unaffiliated to any party, must now prove he can lead the euro zone's third largest economy.

His mandate gives the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement and anti-immigrant League a shot at running western Europe's first populist government.

Conte, 53, emerged from obscurity on Monday when both parties announced he was the compromise choice to lead their coalition government.

"Outside here there is a country that needs answers," Conte said after President Sergio Mattarella asked him to try to form a government. "I will be the defense lawyer of the Italian people."

He has a daunting task. Financial markets have heavily sold-off Italian stocks and government bonds at the prospect of an inexperienced government.

The president, who formally appoints the prime minister, took his time before endorsing Conte, whose resume has come under scrutiny this week.

Conte said he had "perfected his judicial studies" at numerous foreign institutions, including Cambridge University, New York University and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Most of the universities said they could find no trace of him on their databases, but Conte said he had attended in an informal capacity to use their facilities and meet colleagues, and had made no false claims.

Crucially, both 5-Star and the League, which had spent weeks trying to find a mutually acceptable candidate, stuck by him and put pressure on Mattarella to accept their recommendation.

He said he was committed to implementing a government program agreed to by the 5-Star and League leadership that calls for an immigration crackdown and budget-busting measures to help ordinary Italians.

Image: Guiseppe Conte
Giuseppe Conte speaks at an election event in Rome on March 1.Alessandro Di Meo / EPA

A dapper dresser with a penchant for waistcoats, cufflinks and a white handkerchief poking out of his breast pocket, Conte teaches at Florence University and also practices as a lawyer in Rome.

Among the many colleges where Conte has taught is the Roman Catholic San Pio V institute, and Italian media reported that he had close ties with the Vatican.

Conte must now return to Mattarella with his Cabinet team.

If all goes smoothly, Conte could have his government sworn in early next week, ready to face the necessary confidence votes in both houses of parliament.

Inconclusive March 4 national elections had led to a hung parliament and more than two months of political deadlock.