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Italy edges toward 1st populist govt, law prof as premier

May 21, 2018

In this photo taken on Thursday, March 1, 2018, Giuseppe Conte, right, shakes hands with leader of the Five-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, during a meeting in Rome. Italy edged toward its first populist government Monday as the eurosceptic 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League indicated a 54-year-old law professor with no political experience as their candidate for premier. Neither 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio nor League leader Matteo Salvini named Giuseppe Conte in brief remarks to reporters after leaving a closed-door meeting with President Sergio Mattarella in what could be final consultations before forming a government 11 weeks after elections left Italy with a hung parliament. But, in a breach of protocol, Di Maio identified Conte to reporters outside the Quirinale presidential palace and posted his name on the movement’s popular block. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME (AP) — With Europe and markets watching anxiously, Italy edged toward its first populist government Monday as the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League identified a 53-year-old law professor with no political experience as their pick to become the country’s next premier.

Five-Star leader Luigi Di Maio named Giuseppe Conte as the choice after meeting with President Sergio Mattarella, saying Conte would be “a political premier of a political government.”

Following a separate meeting with the president, League leader Matteo Salvini, in a live video transmission on Facebook, called Conte an expert in trimming bureaucracy, “which is what many companies are asking for.”

It is up to Mattarella to accept Conte as premier-designate. The University of Florence professor neither participated in the campaigns for Italy’s parliamentary election nor in the drafting of the government program that he would oversee.

Conte, whom the 5-Stars initially presented as a possible public administration minister, has said that he traditionally voted to the left, but that such “ideological schematics” were no longer valid.

If the president consents, Conte would then bring a list of Cabinet members for Mattarella’s approval, and the government would face confidence votes in both houses of parliament.

It was unclear when that would happen, but Mattarella scheduled meetings with the two parliamentary house leaders for Tuesday.

The prospect of a 5-Star-League government weighed heavily on markets and on Italy’s European allies. The cost of borrowing to fund Italy’s persistently high public debt rose Monday to the highest levels in nine months and the Milan stock market closed down 1.5 percent.

Most worrying to financial markets is the two parties’ government agenda, unveiled last week. It includes a rollback on pension reform, a minimum salary for struggling Italians and the introduction of a flat tax. The policies would contribute to a large fiscal expansion that economists and European Union policymakers worry will increase the country’s debt burden.

French and German politicians were already sounding an alarm that the eurozone’s financial stability could be threatened if a populist government blows Italy’s deficit commitments.

“If the new government takes the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit, but also on consolidation of banks, then the entire financial stability of the eurozone will be threatened,” Bruno Le Maire told the Cnews television channel Sunday.

German conservative lawmaker Manfred Weber, who heads the center-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, called on the prospective Italian coalition partners to end the discussion about the euro and its rules.

“Irrational or populist acts could cause a new euro crisis. So one can only appeal and say, ‘Stay in the area of good sense,’” Weber told Germany news agency dpa.

The League’s Salvini dismissed their concerns.

’They have nothing to worry about. The government that we want to form wants to make Italy grow and create jobs, to bring companies to Italy that invest, to make work more stable,” Salvini said.

The coalition program also introduces a tougher stance on deporting migrants and calls for a better dialogue with Russia on economic and foreign policy matters while maintaining Italy’s trans-Atlantic alliance.

Di Maio assured his voters that the government would find the money to pay for social programs and tax cuts both through investments and in upcoming negotiations in Brussels on the European Union’s seven-year budget cycle. Neither the markets nor European partners have been assuaged.

A 5-Star-League government would have a very thin majority of just over 50 percent of parliamentary seats. Salvini ran in the election as part of a right-wing coalition including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, but Berlusconi opposes the 5-Stars and says he will not support them in a confidence vote.

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Barry reported from Milan. Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris and Geir Moulson form Berlin.

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