Italian populists name pick for PM

Rome (AFP) –


The leaders of Italy's anti-establishment and far-right parties on Monday proposed little-known lawyer Giuseppe Conte as prime minister of a nascent populist coalition government.

Conte, 54, was proposed to Italian President Sergio Mattarella during talks held at the head of state's offices with Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio and nationalist League chief Matteo Salvini.

"We have indicated the name of Giuseppe Conte to the President of the Republic," Luigi Di Maio wrote on the official blog of Five Star (M5S), after meeting the president in Rome on Monday evening.

"I'm very proud of this name because he is the Five Star Movement in a nutshell -- he won't burden the Italian public."

Salvini later confirmed that Conte was also the League's pick for prime minister in a live video on Facebook to his more than two million followers.

"Conte is an expert in simplification, cutting of red tape and streamlining of the administrative machine, which is what many businesses ask of us," Salvini said.

A specialist in administrative law, Conte was presented before March's inconclusive general election as Di Maio's ministerial pick to streamline Italy's notorious bureaucracy.

- Unknown -

Both Di Maio and Salvini had previously railed against the possibility of a technical government being put in place after doubts were raised over whether a coalition could be formed.

But the two leaders' brushed off journalists' questions when asked why a relative unknown had been chosen as prime minister nominee.

"He was in my team. Eleven million Italians voted for him," Di Maio said as he left the presidential Quirinal palace, while Salvini said "all prime ministers are political".

Mattarella did not reveal on Monday whether he agrees with the two parties' pick, but summoned the Chamber of Deputy and Senate speakers for talks at 0900 GMT on Tuesday.

The president's endorsement is crucial if they are to seek approval for a new government in parliament.

Should Conte receive Mattarella's blessing, he will then have to present the president with a team of ministers.

"We have clear ideas on the ministers," Salvini said.

In the meantime the president will also examine the two parties' joint programme, overwhelmingly approved by party members over the weekend in a public non-binding vote.

- Market worry -

The 58-page "Contract for the Government of Change" does not mention a unilateral exit from the eurozone, unlike previous versions leaked to the media, but it rejects post-financial crisis austerity policies and features hardline immigration and security proposals.

The document's costly financial measures and eurosceptic tone has worried financial markets, as has Conte's nomination as PM.

The Milan stock exchange closed down 1.52 percent. The spread -- the difference between Italian and German 10-year borrowing rates -- has shot up 55 base points to 186 in less than a week.

However, according to a poll published Sunday in La Repubblica, 60 percent of Italians say they support a League-M5S government.

Little is known about Conte beyond his complete lack of political experience and solid career in law and academia. He is Di Maio's personal lawyer.

His first, and so far only encounter with the Italian public, was at a pre-election presentation of the Five Star's government team in which he spoke at length about radical overhauls to the legal system and cancelling more than 400 laws.

Conte will also likely have Di Maio and Salvini in his government team, with the Five Star leader reportedly keen on the Economic Development Ministry and the League chief gunning for Interior Minister.