Italy's PM candidate arrives for talks with president

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's would-be prime minister Giuseppe Conte headed into talks Wednesday with the country's president who must decide whether to approve his nomination to lead a government formed by far-right and anti-establishment parties.

The Five Star Movement and anti-immigrant League have put forward Conte, 53, a political newcomer, as the candidate to lead their eurosceptic coalition government.

President Sergio Mattarella's decision on whether to endorse him was delayed after controversy erupted over claims that Conte had exaggerated his academic experience on his CV.

But Conte eventually went into talks with Mattarella at the presidential palace late on Wednesday afternoon.

Conte's appointment could herald an end to more than two months of political uncertainty in the eurozone's third-biggest economy.

But it poses a headache for EU officials who are nervous about the prospective coalition government's eurosceptic stance.

- CV controversy -

After being nominated by the parties, Conte was plunged into scandal over doubts about his claims to have studied at some of the world's top universities.

The newspaper Corriere della Sera claimed that Conte's nomination was "hanging in the balance" ahead of his meeting with Mattarella.

Mattarella must agree to the parties' candidate and ministerial team before they can seek approval for the new government in parliament.

Conte's official CV said that he "furthered his juridical studies" at Yale, New York University (NYU), Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Cambridge.

NYU told AFP that their records did not "reflect Giuseppe Conte having been at the University as a student or having an appointment as a faculty member". It said he was granted permission to conduct research in the institution's law library between 2008 and 2014.

Duquesne University told AFP he attended as part of an affiliation with Villa Nazareth, an exchange programme, and did legal research but "was not enrolled as a student".

Conte has yet to speak out publicly about the affair, but has been staunchly defended by both Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini.

Salvini said Italy should "go back to the polls" if their proposed government did not get the go-ahead.

- EU worries -

European officials have expressed concerns about the proposed Italian government, which includes among its mooted cabinet team Paolo Savona as economy mnister.

Minister for industry between 1993-94 and defended by Salvini, Savona was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and considers the euro currency a "German cage".

EU officials have voiced concern that Italy could trigger a new eurozone crisis by refusing to stick to public spending and debt targets set by Brussels.

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Wednesday that Italy must deliver a "credible" response on how it will reduce debt.

Italy has one of the eurozone's highest levels of government debt and lowest growth rates.

More than eight percent of its population lives in poverty, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Di Maio and Salvini's government programme pledges tax cuts and increased welfare spending to boost growth.

It plans to speed up expulsions of illegal immigrants and crack down on trafficking.

Nearly 700,000 people have landed in Italy since the migrant crisis exploded in 2013.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels: "We judge governments as governments not on what they announce but on what they will do. But we remain attentive to safeguard the rights of the Africans who are in Italy."