Leaders

Giuseppe Conte

Giuseppe Conte

Giuseppe Conte
Giuseppe Conte
 
58th Prime Minister of Italy
Incumbent
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 
Volturara Appula, Italy
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Valentina Fico (div.)
Domestic partner Olivia Paladino
Children 1
Residence Palazzo Chigi
Alma mater Sapienza University
Occupation
  • Professor
  • lawyer
Website Official website

Giuseppe Conte (Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈzɛppe ˈkonte]😉 is an Italian jurist and politician serving as the 58th and current Prime Minister of Italy since 1 June 2018.

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 Lega Nord, but relinquished when Paolo Savona, who was picked for Minister of Economy and Finance, was vetoed by President Sergio Mattarella. On 31 May, the two parties reached an agreement proposing Giovanni Tria as Minister of Economy and Finances and Conte was called to take oath on the following day.

According to many journalists and political commentators, Conte’s cabinet is the first populist government in Western Europe. 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.

Early life and career

Giuseppe Conte was born in 1964 at Volturara Appula, near Foggia, into a middle-class family. His father Nicola was a public employee in the local municipality, while his mother Lillina Roberti was an elementary school teacher.

After his family moved to San Giovanni Rotondo, Conte attended the classical lyceum in nearby San Marco in Lamis and then studied Law at the La Sapienza University of Rome, where he graduated in 1988 with distinction. 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; later he attended Sorbonne University in 2000, Girton College, Cambridge, in 2001 and New York University in 2008.

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. Conte is currently professor of private law at the University of Florence and at LUISS of Rome. He sits on the board of trustees of John Cabot University, in Rome.

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.

Government formation

Giuseppe Conte at the Quirinal Palace, in May 2018
Giuseppe Conte at the Quirinal Palace, in May 2018

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. However the election resulted in a hung parliament, 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.

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 officially requested President Sergio Mattarella to give them 24 more hours to strike a government agreement between their two parties. Later the 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.

On 13 May, Five Star Movement 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 Italian President Sergio Mattarella on 14 May to guide the formation of a new government. 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.

Giuseppe Conte with President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace
Giuseppe Conte with President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace

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

However on 27 May, Conte renounced to his office, due to contrasts between Salvini and President Mattarella. In fact, 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. 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.

On the following day, Mattarella gave Carlo Cottarelli, a former director of the International Monetary Fund, the task of forming a new government. On 28 May 2018, the Democratic Party (PD) announced that it would abstain from voting the confidence to Cottarelli, while the Five Star Movement and the center-right parties Forza Italia (FI), Brothers of Italy (FdI) and the League announced their vote against.

Cottarelli was expected to submit his list of ministers for approval to President Mattarella on 29 May. However, on 29 May and 30 May he held only informal consultations with the President, waiting for the formation of a “political government”. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini and Luigi 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. 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.

Prime Minister of Italy

On 1 June 2018, Conte officially succeeded the Democrat Paolo Gentiloni at the head of the Italian government, swearing as new Prime Minister in the afternoon. 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 1990s and currently known for his Eurosceptic views, that would become the new Minister of European Affairs.

Both parties’ leaders Salvini and Di Maio were appointed Deputy Prime Ministers; moreover, 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.

The coalition of the two populist parties which Conte led was also known as Government of Change, thanks to a document that summarized the electoral programmes of the two parties, which was called “Contract for the Government of Change”.

On 5 June, during his speech before the investiture vote in the Italian Senate, 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. Conte also proudly claimed of being populist and anti-establishment, if they mean listening to the people.The Senate approved the confidence vote with 171 votes in favor and 117 against, with 25 abstentions. The cabinet was supported by M5S, Lega, two senators from MAIE and two independents, while the Democratic Party, Forza Italia, Free and Equal and other small leftists parties voted against it. The far-right Brothers of Italy and other ten independent senators abstained.

Political views

Giuseppe Conte in May 2018
Giuseppe Conte in May 2018

During an interview in 2018, Conte declared himself a voter of the left-wing, before approaching the Five Star Movement during 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.”

During the investiture speech in the Italian Parliament, Conte proudly asserted of being a populist, stating: “If populism is the attitude of the ruling class to listen to people’s needs, if anti-establishment means aiming to introduce a new system, which removes old privileges and encrustations of power, well our political forces deserve both these qualifications.”

He opposed the “hypertrophy of Italian laws”, advocating the repeal of useless laws and supported a simplification of bureaucracy. Conte strongly opposed the school reform legislation promoted by Matteo Renzi’s government in 2015, known as “The Good School”, which must be completely revised.

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

Controversies

On 21 May 2018, when the name of Giuseppe Conte was proposed to President Mattarella as candidate for Prime Minister, The New York Times, questioning his summer stays at New York University listed in his official curriculum vitae, 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”. The next day, the Associated Press, in an article published also by The New York Times, reported 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 CV. Similarly, the Duquesne University of Pittsburgh and the University of Malta found no record of him in their archives, although it was confirmed that Conte held lectures “at the old university building in Valletta”, Malta, for the Foundation for International Studies. Yale University, contacted by another newspaper, also confirmed that he studied there for three months.

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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