Giuseppe Conte
Who is Italy's possible next prime minister?
02:14 - Source: CNN
Rome CNN  — 

In a remarkable case of political deja vu, Italy’s President has appointed Giuseppe Conte, a law professor and political novice, as the country’s new prime minister, the secretary of the presidential palace announced Thursday.

President Sergio Mattarella approved Conte’s appointment last week – but the next day rejected the politician’s choice of finance minister, forcing Conte, 53, to abandon his attempt to form a government.

Thursday’s announcement came a few hours after the right-wing League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement – the two largest parties after the federal election in March – said they reached an agreement to form a coalition government, signaling a possible end to the country’s months-long political uncertainty.

Conte was summoned to the Quirinale, Italy’s presidential palace, Thursday evening, and his appointment announced shortly afterward. The President has also approved a list of cabinet ministers brought by Conte to the palace.

“We will work intensely to realize the political goals of our agreement, and we will work with determination to improve the lives of all Italians,” Conte said after reading the list of confirmed ministers.

New Interior Minister tells immigrants: ‘Go home!!!’

News of Conte’s appointment came soon after Carlo Cottarelli, a former official at the International Monetary Fund who was asked by President Sergio Mattarella to form an interim government earlier this week, relinquished his mandate to make way for Conte.

“A political government is by far the best solution for the country,” Cottarelli said after handing his resignation to the President. “It avoids the uncertainty of new elections.”

But a populist, euroskeptic government in Europe’s fourth-largest economy will likely be met with alarm by other European leaders, most notably French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are both eager to push for further EU political and economic integration.

The League has also faced widespread criticism for xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies reminiscent of those forwarded by far-right parties across Europe, including Germany’s AfD and France’s National Front.

Just hours before his party announced it would be forming a coalition government, League leader Matteo Salvini posted a video on Facebook appearing to show a man of African origin plucking a pigeon, with the words, “Go home!!!”

Salvini, who promised during the election campaign to expel half a million illegal immigrants from Italy, is Italy’s new interior minister, while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio will become labor and economic development minister, a key position to fulfill his campaign promise of a universal basic income.

League leader Matteo Salvini celebrates after a strong result in federal elections in March.

The League and Five Star proposed a government led by Conte last week. But Mattarella objected to Conte’s choice for the finance ministry, euroskeptic economist Paolo Savona, saying it would alarm investors and have dangerous consequences for Italy’s outstanding government debt.

On Thursday’s visit to the presidential palace, Conte instead proposed Giovanna Tria as finance minister. Tria has been critical of Germany’s role in Europe but, unlike Savona, has never expressed the desire to leave the single currency. Savona will enter the government as minister for European affairs.

The country’s new government is scheduled to be sworn in Friday at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), an event likely to trigger reverberations across Italy. Rallies in support of Mattarella had been planned in Rome and Milan for Friday, while Five Star had planned a protest in Rome Sunday, originally to call for the president’s impeachment.

It is likely that Italians will still take to the streets this weekend, either to celebrate or to demonstrate against the populist coalition.

A new European crisis?

Italy has not had a government since it went to the polls in March, the longest such period in the country’s postwar history.

Since the vote, Five Star leader Di Maio and Salvini, the League leader, were locked in talks with Mattarella and struggled to form a government.

During the negotiations, the populists ditched some of their most incendiary campaign vows, such as calling for a referendum on whether Italy should abandon the euro or leave the European Union.

Instead they promised a spending and tax-cutting binge that has rattled investors and could contain the seeds of a new European crisis.

Tensions have also risen between the two parties and the President, peaking as Di Maio called for Mattarella’s impeachment earlier this week following his rejection of Conte’s choice of finance minister.

Conte: A political unknown

Born in the southern region of Puglia, Conte lives in Florence where he teaches civil law at the University of Florence.

When he joined the Five Star Movement during the recent election, he said he supported center-left political ideals. He was mentioned as a potential Public Administration minister in the event that the Five Star Movement won a clear majority.

Conte’s first nomination as prime minister was briefly called into question after media reports accused him of embellishing parts of his curriculum vitae. Efforts to reach Conte for comment were unsuccessful.

He studied in the United Kingdom and United States, according to his resume, where he perfected his English in order to teach international law. The Five Star movement rejected accusations that Conte embellished his qualifications.

“There’s no reference (in his CV) to masters or other university titles, but the simple and accurate description of his work as a scholar and university professor,” the movement said in a post on its official blog.

Livia Borghese reported from Rome and Judith Vonberg wrote from London. CNN’s Lorenzo D’Agostino contributed to this report.