Dubbed ‘Mr Nobody’, political novice Giuseppe Conte suddenly finds himself at the helm of one of the eurozone’s largest economies, running a cabinet of far-right and anti-establishment ministers.
The little-known academic, 53, was sworn in as prime minister on Friday, less than a week after walking away amid a row over a proposed eurosceptic economy minister.
The devout Catholic and former leftist formally took the reins after darting down from lessons at the University of Florence a day earlier for last-ditch talks, which propelled him into the hot seat.
Conte had given up the mandate handed to him by President Sergio Mattarella days after being nominated to head a coalition of the far-right League Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
He bounced right back after the partners agreed to jettison controversial financier Paolo Savona as finance minister — Mattarella’s demand that they find someone else briefly sparking calls for the head of state’s impeachment.
On Saturday, he will stand alongside Mattarella for national day celebrations in Rome before jetting off to the G7 in Canada.
Born in 1964 in the tiny village of Volturara Appula in the southern region of Puglia, Conte joined the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
“I used to vote left. Today, I think that the ideologies of the 20th century are no longer adequate,” media have quoted Conte as.
Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, also from Italy’s poorer south, hailed Conte as “someone from the periphery of this country (…), who has made something of himself”.
A friend told state 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.
Analysts say Conte will serve at the command of the leaders of the two groups forming the new cabinet.
They said Di Maio and Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League would call the shots.
The Italian press has raised concerns over Conte’s credibility as premier on the international scene.
Left-wing newspaper La Repubblica has branded him “a prime minister who will not count,” asking “what authority will he have when he goes to meet Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron?”.
– CV or not CV? –
Di Maio had initially presented Conte as part of the Five Star 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 coalition talks to form an alliance after an 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 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 not spoken out publicly about the CV affair, but Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini staunchly defended him, and when the chance of forming an alliance reappeared, the pair had no hesitation in putting they quite man forward again.