The Malta Independent 22 September 2018, Saturday

Italy edges toward 1st populist government, law professor as premier

Associated Press Monday, 21 May 2018, 20:16 Last update: about 5 months ago

Italy edged toward its first populist government Monday as the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League indicated a law professor with no political experience was their pick to become the country's next premier.

Neither 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio nor League leader Matteo Salvini named Giuseppe Conte as their choice after closed-door meetings with President Sergio Mattarella.

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But in a breach of protocol, Di Maio later identified Conte to reporters outside the Quirinale presidential palace and posted his name on the movement's popular blog.

"Giuseppe Conte will be a political premier on a political government, indicated by two political forces that include political figures," Di Maio wrote on the blog.

The consultations with the president could be the last ones before a government is formed, 11 weeks after an election left Italy with a hung parliament.

It is up to Mattarella to say whether he accepts Conte as premier-designate. If the president consents, Conte would bring a list of Cabinet members for the president's approval, and the government would face confidence votes in both houses of parliament.

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 was trading down 1.5 percent.

France's economics minister has already sounded 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.

Most worrying to financial markets is the two parties' platform, unveiled last week. It includes a rollback on pension reform, a minimum salary for struggling Italians and the introduction of a flat tax, which will contribute to a large fiscal expansion that economists and EU policymakers worry will increase the country's debt burden.

The 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 its 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, but 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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