Conte, religious ex-leftist named PM for Italy eurosceptic cabinet

Ljubomir MILASIN
1 / 3
Giuseppe Conte, pictured middle, is a little-known lawyer and political newcomer

Reportedly a devout Catholic and former leftist, Giuseppe Conte was a little-known academic before being nominated as Italian prime minister to marshal a government formed by anti-establishment and far-right parties.

The 53-year-old's sudden ascent to the head of government had looked in peril when he was accused of exaggerating his academic experience on his CV. But President Sergio Mattarella finally approved his nomination on Wednesday.

Born in 1964 in the tiny village of Volturara Appula in the southern region of Puglia, Conte joined the anti-establishment Five Star Movement after reportedly turning his back on the country's left.

"I used to vote left. Today, I think that the ideologies of the 20th century are no longer adequate," Conte has been quoted as saying by Italian media.

A friend told state radio broadcaster Radio 1 that Conte is "very religious" and devoted to mystic Catholic saint Padre Pio, who lived in Puglia.

The saint was famous for exhibiting "stigmata" -- marks on his body supposedly matching the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.

- Who's boss? -

Some analysts said Conte was likely to serve at the command of the leaders of the two groups forming the new government.

They said M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League would call the shots.

Salvini and Di Maio are tipped to hold key ministerial posts within the new cabinet.

"I think that he'll have to respond to what they want, do what they decide," Gianfranco Pasquino, political science professor at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, told AFP.

"It doesn't seem that he has political experience so he will be forced to carry out the preferences of Di Maio and Salvini."

The Italian press has raised concerns over Conte's credibility as premier on the international scene.

Left-wing newspaper La Repubblica branded him "a prime minister who will not count" in an editorial on Monday.

"What authority will he have when he goes to meet Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron?" it asked.

- CV or not CV? -

Di Maio had initially presented Conte as part of his team of ministers ahead of the March 4 general election.

That was the general public's first glimpse of the discreet lawyer. He stayed out of sight in the talks between Five Star and the League to form an alliance after the inconclusive election.

After the parties nominated him, the media uncovered snippets of information about the likely future prime minister.

He is reportedly separated from his wife with whom he has a 10-year-old son.

Conte currently teaches private law at the University of Florence and at Rome's Luiss University.

In a CV posted on the website of a lawyers' association, Conte boasted of an impressive career in law and academia.

His claims of study positions at some of the world's most prestigious universities were cast into doubt, however.

New York University (NYU) and the Sorbonne's law school told AFP they had no record of him as a student or faculty member.

NYU said that he was granted permission to conduct research in its law library between 2008 and 2014. Cambridge University declined to give details about Conte.

Another of the institutions where he claims to have "furthered his juridical studies" was Vienna's Internationales Kulturinstitut -- a language school.

Conte has yet to speak out publicly about the CV affair, but Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini staunchly defended him.

Media reported that his WhatsApp account displays a quote attributed to former US President John F. Kennedy: "Every success begins with the willingness to try."