Conte quiet as deputies take center stage

AFP
Italy's new prime minister Giuseppe Conte mostly kept quiet on his full first day in office on Saturday, while his two powerful deputies took center stage.
AFP

Italy’s new prime minister Giuseppe Conte mostly kept quiet on his full first day in office on Saturday, while his two powerful deputies took center stage in setting the tone of the populist government’s policy.

Conte, a political novice, was finally sworn in on Friday as the head of a government of ministers from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League, ending months of uncertainty since elections in March.

But Conte was a compromise candidate between 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini — both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers — and he will have to walk a delicate line to push through the anti-austerity and pro-security promises their populist parties campaigned on.

The 53-year-old academic also inherited a daunting list of issues from his predecessor Paolo Gentiloni, including the financial travails of companies such as Ilva and Alitalia, a Group of Seven summit in Canada and a key European Union summit at the end of the month, as well as the thorny question of immigration.

Immigration is the bugbear of Conte’s interior minister, Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam League.

Salvini arrived Sunday in Sicily, one of the country’s main refugee landing points, to push the anti-immigration platform that propelled him to power.

“The good times for illegals is over — get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini said at a rally in Italy’s north on Saturday, adding however that he wants to economically assist migrants’ countries of origin.

His comments came after more than 150 migrants, including nine children, disembarked from a rescue ship late Friday in Sicily.

Conte attended a military parade alongside President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, marking Republic Day for the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946.

However Conte has issued few public statements since being appointed.

On Saturday he did post on Facebook that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit, where he will be a “spokesman for the interests of Italian citizens.”

Conte has also opted to keep the country’s intelligence services under his personal control.

Deputy premier Di Maio, who is serving as economic development minister, also took to Facebook, calling for “entrepreneurs to be left alone.”

“Employers and employees in Italy must not be enemies,” he said.

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