Italy's populists face setback on their new leader amid scrutiny over his CV

  • Italy's Five Star Movement (M5S) and Lega party's chances of having their choice for prime minister accepted by the head of state are looking slim.
  • Questions are being raised over the accuracy over their candidate's past.
  • M5S and Lega's leaders, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, chose a relatively unknown private law professor called Giuseppe Conte as the country's next prime minister.

The two anti-establishment parties looking to share power in Italy face the prospect of having their first choice for prime minister rejected.

The leaders of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Lega, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, chose a relatively unknown private law professor called Giuseppe Conte as the country's next prime minister. They presented their nomination to Italy's President Sergio Mattarella Monday, but he has yet to approve the choice.

According to Reuters, a source in the president's office said that he needed time for reflection due to the important role a prime minister plays leading a government.

This delay comes amid questions over Conte's illustrious CV, particularly his claims to have "perfected" his studies at a handful of prestigious universities, including Yale, Duquesne, the International Kultur Institut in Vienna, La Sorbonne in France, Cambridge and New York University, according to Conte's profile page on a law association website.

Conte has been accused of inflating his academic credentials after the Sorbonne and NYU both said they had no record of Conte having studied there.

"That doesn't necessarily mean he didn't come here. But we have not yet found his name in our records," an official at the Sorbonne told Reuters, adding staff would keep on searching through old written records. Meanwhile, Cambridge University declined to comment to Reuters although the agency cited a source as saying Conte might have attended a course run by a third party at one of the university's colleges.

M5S, which initially proposed Conte as a minister of public administration ahead of the inconclusive March 4 election, took to its blog to defend Conte, saying the accusations were part of a defamatory campaign by the party's opponents.

Delays over the approval of Conte are not necessarily related to his academic record. On Tuesday, President Mattarella held talks with the speakers of Italy's lower house of parliament and Senate, Roberto Fico and Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, to discuss the nomination.

A source close to the president said Tuesday that "nothing has been decided" regarding the nomination of Conte, Reuters reported. The unnamed source also noted that any problems arising from Conte's candidacy were not the president's responsibility.

Mattarella is reportedly concerned about radical policies proposed by M5S and Lega to overhaul Italy's public finances, measures agreed by the parties during negotiations to form a coalition government.

The parties want to increase public spending (challenging European rules over debt and budget deficits as a result), dilute reforms to the pension system and are proposing a guaranteed basic income — all popular with voters but concerning to Italy's president and other European leaders wanting to keep debt-ridden Italy on a tight leash.

Financial markets are understandably nervous about two renegade, euroskeptic parties (both parties have criticized the EU and the euro as a failed venture) taking control of the euro zone's third-largest economy. The yield on Italy's benchmark 10-year government bond has risen over the last month from 1.8 percent to around 2.3 percent, signaling investor nervousness over lending to the Italian government. The FTSE MIB stock exchange has fallen as the Lega-M5S coalition materialized in recent weeks.

Lega leader Salvini added fuel to the fire on Tuesday by saying that his party would like euroskeptic economist and professor Paolo Savona to be economy minister — Savona has said previously that Italy should be able to leave the euro (which he reportedly once likened to a "German prison") if necessary, saying Italy's joining of the single currency was a "historic error."

It is up to the president to decide who should have a mandate to form a government following the inconclusive March 4 general election.

Lega leader Matteo Salvini said late Tuesday that Conte remains his and Di Maio's candidate for prime minister.