Little-known lawyer Conte mandated to form government

Political novice to implement M5S-Lega ‘contract for government of change’

President Sergio Mattarella has given little-known university law professor Giuseppe Conte a mandate to form a government embracing the populist Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) and right-wing Lega.

The 54-year-old expert in private law had been indicated by M5S and Lega leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini as the person best placed to implement their political programme, set out in the so-called ‘contract for a government of change’.

Speaking after receiving the government-formation mandate, Conte said he would be the "defence attorney" for the Italian people.

"I am a professor and lawyer, I have defended cases of various people and now I defend the interests of Italians in all EU and international fora, dialoguing with EU institutions and with the other countries, I propose to be the defence attorney of the Italian people,” he said.

Conte’s nomination ends two and a half months of political deadlock and negotiations after elections on 4 May gave victory to M5S and Lega but without either party having enough seats in parliament to govern on their own.

The prime minister-designate has no previous experience in politics, although media reports suggest he comes from a left-leaning and pro-European background.

Conte, who teaches at Florence university and at the private LUISS university in Rome, came under fierce public scrutiny prior to his nomination after foreign media raised doubts about parts of his CV.

He also drew criticism for acting as a lawyer for the family of the girl who became the symbol of the discredited Stamina stem-cell treatment in 2013.

Conte must now put together a team of ministers for approval by the head of state before the new executive can be sworn in and seek a vote of confidence in parliament.

However, most of the ministerial posts may have already been decided by Di Maio and Salvini during long negotiations, and it remains to be seen how much independence Conte will actually have, both in picking his team and in executing the government programme.

The M5S-Lega contract proposes a basic income, flat tax and pension reform, expelling half a million irregular immigrants and focusing on border protection and security at the expense of migrant reception and integration, scrapping the TAV high-speed rail line with France, lifting mandatory school vaccinations, and renegotiating EU budget regulations, among other things.

By Laura Clarke