A law professor who ‘doesn’t have a clue about politics’ is set to become one of Europe’s most powerful men

  • The Italian law professor Giuseppe Conte is tipped to be announced as the country’s new prime minister.
  • Conte will be the figurehead of the uneasy coalition between the country’s populist parties, the Five Star Movement and the Lega Nord.
  • The parties have been thrashing out an agreement since last week but are set to present their plans for government to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, on Monday.

Italy is set to name Giuseppe Conte, a relatively unknown law professor with hardly any political experience, as its next prime minister, according to Italian media reports.

If named, Conte would be the figurehead for the uneasy coalition partnership between the country’s populist parties, the Five Star Movement and the Lega Nord, the Financial Times reported. The appointment could be presented to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, as early as Monday.

Italy’s political system is unusual in that often, particularly during times of coalition government, its prime minister is not the leader of a political party but an appointed technocrat, generally put in place as a compromise between coalition partners.

Conte’s likely appointment fits that mould, with neither Five Star nor the Lega keen to have a leader appointed from the ranks of its partner’s party.

Conte – who lectures in public-administration law at the University of Florence and the University of Bologna – is by no stretch a politician.

In a profile in Corriere Della Sera, one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, it is said that while he has a “very long curriculum vitae,” he also does not “have a clue about politics.”

Conte may have a low profile, but he is not a complete unknown, having been tipped during the election campaign earlier in the year to become the newly created minister for public administration and simplification, tasked with removing what are seen as unnecessary laws from Italy’s statute book.

He would most likely have taken that role in the event of a Five Star Movement majority government, as one of the party’s key election pledges was to aggressively cut down on the number of laws in place, as well as tightening laws on corruption – something Five Star believes has plagued Italy for decades.

An uneasy alliance

Though neither Luigi Di Maio, Five Star’s leader, nor Matteo Salvini, the head of the Lega Nord, has announced the name of his prime ministerial choice, Salvini said on Sunday that a candidate had been chosen.

“We hope no one will place vetoes on this person’s name or surname,” he said. “We won’t accept it.”

“It won’t be me, nor Di Maio,” he added. “It will be a balanced name that satisfies us both.” According to a report from CNBC, Salvini will become Italy’s interior minister (akin to Britain’s home secretary), while Di Maio will be minister of either labour or economic development.

Conte’s imminent appointment comes more than two months after an inconclusive general election left Italy in a state of flux. Five Star and Lega Nord are by no means natural bedfellows, but they have settled on a series of compromises that will allow them to govern after Five Star – which is the biggest single party – ruled out working with any of Italy’s more established political parties.

The chart below, created by Nomura, illustrates the areas of compromise between the two parties as they start their government together:

Five Star Lega Nord policy chart Nomura