No Experience Is No Drawback for Top Italy Premier Candidate

(Bloomberg) -- Giuseppe Conte, a 53-year old law professor with no political experience, has emerged as the leading candidate for prime minister in an Italian coalition government.

All of Italy’s main newspapers reported Monday that Conte, who teaches law at Florence University, is the frontrunner. Conte himself posted a picture of John F. Kennedy on his WhatsApp profile over the weekend with the line, “Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try.”

Whoever gets the job will have to manage a fractious coalition with a razor-thin majority in the Senate navigating the notoriously stormy waters -- Machiavellian, even -- of Italian politics. Political prospects unsettled markets again, with the 10-year yield spread over German bunds widening to 173 basis points as of 1:34 p.m. in Milan, the biggest gap since October.

Italy is a parliamentary democracy, which means that parliaments last, while governments fall if they lose a vote of confidence. This is the 19th parliament since 1946, counting the one that wrote the Constitution; it will be the 65th government since the end of World War II.

No Experience Is No Drawback for Top Italy Premier Candidate

Conte’s first task if he gets the job, will be dealing with the leaders of the two dueling coalition parties: Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League. Salvini is seeking the job of Interior Minister, while Di Maio could head an expanded ministry of labor and economic development.

The two said Sunday they’d agreed on a premiership candidate and on Monday would communicate it to President Sergio Mattarella whose job it is to name the premier. Mattarella will discuss only the premiership at the meeting, and sees no obstacles to appointing Conte, according to a senior state official who declined to be named discussing strategy.

The appointment would come 11 weeks after Italy’s inconclusive general election in which no party won a majority. The rapprochement between the Five Star and League also resulted in a government program announced last week whose spending program and challenge to the European Union triggered turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks.

Tax Cuts, Spending

“If the new government takes the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit and the cleanup of banks, the financial stability of the entire euro zone will be threatened,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday in an interview with Europe 1 radio.

France is the first EU government -- and another of the bloc’s six founder members -- to voice concern at the coalition’s 58-page “Contract for a Government of Change.”

The plan includes lowering the retirement age, a guaranteed income for the poor and jobless, and cutting the tax rates to just two at 15 percent and 20 percent. It also calls for a review of EU treaties and European “bail-in” rules for the banking industry, saying savers should get more protection. Supporters of both parties have endorsed the program since it was released on Friday morning, with more than 90 percent voting in favor in ad hoc ballots.

Read more about the populist policy program here

Mattarella, the 76-year-old head of state and a former constitutional court judge, is determined to use his constitutional prerogatives to ensure any new spending is adequately funded, and that Italy respects its international commitments, said the state official. It’s up to Mattarella to nominate the prime minister before he or she can face a confidence vote in parliament.

Salvini has insisted that it shouldn’t be him or Di Maio, though Five Star officials say their leader is still hoping to get the job. Five Star won more parliamentary seats than the League in March, though the center-right alliance headed by the League was the biggest group overall. Both leaders claimed the right to be premier.

If Mattarella approves the two leaders’ choice, he will ask that person to form a government. The premier-designate would then draw up a list of ministers, to be submitted to the president for approval before a swearing-in ceremony possibly on Friday or on the weekend. A new government could then go before parliament for votes of confidence, in the lower House and in the Senate, early next week.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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