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New Italian PM nominee begins work on forming cabinet

© AFP | Giuseppe Conte's appointment could herald an end to more than two months of political uncertainty

ROME (AFP) - 

A little-known lawyer charged with forming Italy's next Italian government -- after over two months of political uncertainty -- will on Thursday begin work on his cabinet.

Italy's president on Wednesday approved Giuseppe Conte's nomination to be prime minister of a government formed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League.

Conte, who hails from Five Star, said that he would present President Sergio Mattarella with his cabinet, which has been the subject of days of tough negotiations between Five Star and the League, within "the next few days".

The list of ministerial candidates must be endorsed by Mattarella before it can seek parliamentary approval.

Italian media reported that League chief Matteo Salvini would become interior minister while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio would be in charge of the economic development ministry.

"The President of the Republic has tasked me with the role of forming a government," Conte told reporters on Wednesday evening after a nearly two-hour meeting with President Mattarella.

Conte's appointment could herald an end to the political limbo in the eurozone's third-biggest economy -- but the coalition's eurosceptic and anti-immigrant stance has alarmed senior European officials.

However, 53-year-old Conte, unveiled Monday as anti-establishment Five Star Movement and nationalist League's pick for premier, sought a more conciliatory tone towards Europe when speaking to journalists at the presidential Quirinal palace.

"I'm aware of the necessity to confirm Italy's place, both in Europe and internationally," said Conte, who cast himself as the "people's lawyer".

"My intent is to give life to a government of the people that looks after their interests. I'm ready to defend the interests of Italians in Europe and internationally, maintaining dialogue with European institutions and representatives of other countries."

- EU concerns -

Mattarella has reportedly been concerned about plans by the two parties in negotiation to name Paolo Savona as economy minister.

Minister for industry between 1993-94, Savona, 81, was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and has said he considers the euro currency a "German cage".

A joint government programme unveiled by the parties on Friday pledges significant anti-austerity measures such as drastic tax cuts, a monthly basic income and pension reform rollbacks, which Di Maio and Salvini claim will boost growth.

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.

Pierre Moscovici, the EU Economic Affairs Commissioner, said on Wednesday that Italy must deliver a "credible" response on how it will reduce its debt, the eurozone's second largest in proportion to GDP.

The Milan stock exchange lost 1.31 percent Wednesday, while the difference in yield on Italian 10-year sovereign bonds compared to Germany's has increased 60 base points to 191 in just eight days -- a sign of increasing investor concern for Italy's financial stability.

The government programme also 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."

- CV scandal -

Almost immediately after being named as candidate for PM by the parties, Conte was plunged into scandal over doubts about his claims to have studied at some of the world's top universities.

In a CV posted on the website of a lawyers' association Conte 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 not spoken publicly about the affair, but was staunchly defended by Salvini and in particular Di Maio.

He said: "Good luck to Giuseppe Conte, the lawyer-defender of the Italian people. Change has never been so close!"

© 2018 AFP