Giuseppe Conte

Giuseppe Conte (Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈzɛppe ˈkonte]; born 8 August 1964) is an Italian university professor, jurist and politician, who is serving as the 58th Prime Minister of Italy since June 2018.[4]

Giuseppe Conte
Giuseppe Conte Official.jpg
58th Prime Minister of Italy
Assumed office
1 June 2018
PresidentSergio Mattarella
Preceded byPaolo Gentiloni
Personal details
Born (1964-08-08) 8 August 1964 (age 55)
Volturara Appula, Apulia, Italy
Political partyIndependent[1]
Spouse(s)Valentina Fico (div.)[2]
Domestic partnerOlivia Paladino[3]
Children1
ResidenceChigi Palace
EducationSapienza University
Signature
WebsiteOfficial website

Conte spent the majority of his career as a law professor and was also a member of the Italian Bureau of Administrative Justice. Following the 2018 general election, he was proposed as the independent leader of a coalition government between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League, despite his very low popularity.[5] After both parties agreed on a government program, he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 1 June by President Sergio Mattarella, appointing the M5S and League leaders as his deputies.[6][7]

On 20 August 2019, Conte offered to resign as Prime Minister when the League filed a motion of no confidence in the coalition government.[8][9] Subsequently, the M5S and the centre-left Democratic Party agreed to form a new government, with Conte remaining as its head.[10] In the process, Conte became the first Italian Prime Minister to lead separate governments with both right-wing and left-wing coalition partners.[11][12]

Despite having started his political career as a technocratic Prime Minister, appointed to implement the government's program of M5S and League, during the final months of his first cabinet and especially during his second one, Conte became an increasingly influential and popular figure in Italian politics.[13] During his rule, he promoted important reforms like the introduction of a universal basic income, a constitutional reform to reduce the number of parliamentarians, the nationalizations of the Italian highway company ASPI and of the flag carrier Alitalia,[14][15] as well as a stricter policy towards illegal immigration.[16] In 2020, Conte had to face one of the most dramatic events in Italian modern history, the coronavirus pandemic. His government was the first in the Western world to implement a national lockdown to stop the spread of the pandemic.[17][18] The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was especially severe in Italy.[19] In July 2020, to answer the coronavirus recession, Conte and the other European leaders approved the Next Generation EU package, by which Italy would receive 209 billions of euros in grants and loans from the European Recovery Fund.[20]

Conte has been the first Italian Prime Minister without prior political office since Silvio Berlusconi in 1994, as well as the first from Southern Italy since Ciriaco De Mita in 1989.[21][22] Conte also became the longest-serving independent Prime Minister in the history of Italy. Moreover, his first cabinet was described by many publications, such as The New York Times and la Repubblica, as the "first modern populist government in Western Europe".[23][24][25] Conte has often been nicknamed "the lawyer of the people" (l'avvocato del popolo), as he also defined himself during his first speech as Prime Minister.[26][27]

Early life and careerEdit

Conte was born on 8 August 1964 into a middle class family at Volturara Appula, near Foggia.[28][29] His father Nicola was a public employee in the local municipality, while his mother Lillina Roberti was an elementary school teacher.[30][31]

After his family moved to San Giovanni Rotondo, Conte attended the Classical Lyceum "Pietro Giannone" near San Marco in Lamis and then studied law at the Sapienza University of Rome, where he graduated in 1988 with honors.[32][33][34] For a short terms, Conte studied abroad. In 1992, he moved to the United States to study at Yale Law School and Duquesne University and at the International Culture Institute in Vienna in 1993. He later researched or lectured at Sorbonne University in 2000, Girton College, Cambridge in 2001 and New York University in 2008.[35][36]

He started his academic career during the 1990s, when he taught at Roma Tre University, at LUMSA University in Rome, at the University of Malta and at the University of Sassari.[33] Conte is currently professor of private law at the University of Florence and at LUISS of Rome.[37][38] He sits on the board of trustees of John Cabot University in Rome.[39] Conte's claim of having perfected studies at New York University have been challenged with the institution stating that "A person by this name does not show up in any of our records as either a student or faculty member." [40]

In 2010 and 2011, Conte served on the board of directors of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and in 2012 he was appointed by the Bank of Italy as a member of the "Banking and Financial Arbitrage" commission.[41] He served also in scientific committee of the Italian Foundation of Notaries.[42]

On 18 September 2013, he was elected by the Chamber of Deputies as a member of the Bureau of Administrative Justice, the self-governing body of administrative magistrates, of which he served also as vice president.[43]

Prime Minister of ItalyEdit

2018 government formationEdit

In February 2018, Conte was selected by Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), as the future possible Minister of Public Administration in his cabinet following the 2018 general election.[44] However, the election resulted in a hung parliament,[45] with the M5S that became the party with the largest number of votes and of parliamentary seats while the centre-right coalition, led by Matteo Salvini's League and other right-wing parties, emerged with a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. The centre-left coalition led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came in third.[46]

On 9 May after weeks of political deadlock and the failure of various attempts of forming cabinets both between M5S–Centre-right and M5S–Democratic Party, Di Maio and Salvini responded to President Sergio Mattarella's ultimatum to appoint a neutral technocratic caretaker government by officially requesting that he allow them 24 more hours to achieve a governing agreement between their two parties.[47][48] Later that same day in the evening, Silvio Berlusconi publicly announced Forza Italia would not support a M5S–League government on a vote of confidence, but he would still maintain the centre-right alliance nonetheless, thus opening the doors to a possible majority government between the two parties.[49]

On 13 May, M5S and League reached an agreement in principle on a government program, likely clearing the way for the formation of a governing coalition between the two parties, but could not find an agreement regarding the members of a government cabinet, most importantly the Prime Minister. M5S and League leaders met with President Sergio Mattarella on 14 May to guide the formation of a new government.[50] On their meeting with President Mattarella, both parties asked for an additional week of negotiations to agree on a detailed government program and a Prime Minister to lead the joint government. Both M5S and the League announced their intention to ask their respective members to vote on the government agreement by the weekend.[51][52]

On 21 May, Conte was proposed by Di Maio and Salvini for the role of Prime Minister in the 2018 Italian government,[53][54][55] despite reports in the Italian press suggesting that President Mattarella still had significant reservations about the direction of the new government.[56] On 23 May, Conte was invited to the Quirinal Palace to receive the presidential mandate to form a new cabinet.[57][58] In the traditional statement after the appointment, Conte said that he would be the "defense lawyer of Italian people".[59]

 
Conte during a press conference at the Quirinal Palace, after receiving the task of forming a new cabinet

On 27 May, Conte renounced his office due to contrasts between Salvini and President Mattarella. Salvini proposed the university professor Paolo Savona as Minister of Economy and Finances, but Mattarella strongly opposed him, considering Savona too Eurosceptic and anti-German.[60] In his speech after Conte's resignation, Mattarella declared that the two parties wanted to bring Italy out of the Eurozone and as the guarantor of the Italian Constitution and the country's interest and stability he could not allow this.[61][62]

On the following day, Mattarella gave Carlo Cottarelli, a former director of the International Monetary Fund, the task of forming a new government.[63] On 28 May, the Democratic Party (PD) announced that it would abstain from voting the confidence to Cottarelli while the M5S and the center-right parties Forza Italia (FI), Brothers of Italy (FdI) and the League announced their vote against.[64][65]

Cottarelli was expected to submit his list of ministers for approval to President Mattarella on 29 May. On that and the following day, he held only informal consultations with the President, waiting for the formation of a "political government".[66][67] Meanwhile, Salvini and Di Maio announced their willingness to restart the negotiations to form a political government and Giorgia Meloni, leader of FdI, gave her support to the initiative.[66][67][68] On 31 May, M5S and the League declared of having reached an agreement about forming a new government without Paolo Savona as Finance Minister (he would become Minister of European Affairs instead) and with Conte at its head.[69][70]

First Conte CabinetEdit

 
Conte with Paolo Gentiloni during the swearing-in ceremony

On 1 June 2018, Conte officially succeeded the Democrat Paolo Gentiloni at the head of the Italian government and was sworn in as the new prime minister in the afternoon.[71] His cabinet was predominantly composed of members of the M5S and the League but also of prominent independent technocrats like the Minister of Foreign Affairs Enzo Moavero Milanesi, who previously served as the minister of European affairs in the government of Mario Monti, the university professor Giovanni Tria as the minister of economy and finances and economist Paolo Savona, who served in the cabinet of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in the 1990s and is currently known for his Eurosceptic views, who became the new minister of European affairs.[72][73]

Both parties' leaders Salvini and Di Maio were appointed Deputy Prime Ministers. While the first became Minister of the Interior, with the main aim of drastically reducing the number of illegal immigrants, the latter served as Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies to introduce the universal basic income.[74][75]

The coalition of the two populist parties which Conte led was also known as Government of Change,[76] thanks to a document that summarized the electoral programmes of the two parties, which was called "Contract for the Government of Change".[77][78]

 
Conte speaks to the European Parliament in February 2019

During his speech before the investiture vote in the Italian Senate on 5 June, Conte announced his willingness to reduce illegal immigration and increase the pressure on human traffickers and smugglers. He also advocated a fight against political corruption, the introduction of a law which regulates the conflict of interests, a new bill which expands the right of self-defense, a reduction in taxes and a drastic cut to money going to elected politicians and government bureaucrats.[79][80][81][82] Conte also proposed to lift the international sanctions against Russia.[83]

The Senate approved the confidence vote with 171 votes in favor and 117 against, with 25 abstentions.[84] The cabinet was supported by M5S, Lega, two senators from Associative Movement Italians Abroad (MAIE) and two independents while the Democratic Party (PD), Forza Italia (FI), Free and Equal (LeU) and other small leftist parties voted against it. The far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) and other ten independent senators abstained.[85] On the following day, he received 350 votes in favor out of 630 in the Chamber of Deputies, 236 votes against and 35 abstained.[86] As in the Senate, PD, FI and LeU voted against the government while FdI abstained. Besides M5S and League, Conte received two votes from independent deputies and one vote from Vittorio Sgarbi, a notable and controversial member of Forza Italia who has always heavily criticised the M5S, but decided to support the cabinet in respect of Salvini and with the hope that a M5S government could lead toward their failure.[87][88]

On 5 February 2019, Conte became acting Minister of European Affairs after the resignation of Paolo Savona, who was elected President of the Companies and Exchange Commission (CONSOB).[89][90] He held the ad interim office until 10 July 2019, when he appointed Lorenzo Fontana as new minister.[91]

Resignation and reappointmentEdit

 
Conte announcing his resignation to President Mattarella

In August 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Salvini announced a motion of no confidence against Conte, after growing tensions within the majority.[92] Many political analysts believe the no confidence motion was an attempt to force early elections to improve Lega's standing in Parliament, ensuring Salvini could become the next Prime Minister.[93] On 20 August, following the parliamentary debate at the Senate, in which Conte accused Salvini of being a political opportunist who "had triggered the political crisis only to serve his personal interest" and stated "this government ends here",[94][9] the Prime Minister resigned his post to President Mattarella.[95]

However, during the round of the so-called consultations between Mattarella and the parliamentary groups, a possible new majority emerged, between the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party.[96] On 28 August, PD's leader Nicola Zingaretti announced at the Quirinal Palace his favorable position on keeping Giuseppe Conte at the head of the new government,[97] and on same day, Mattarella summoned Conte to the Quirinal Palace for 29 August to give him the task of forming a new cabinet.[98] On 4 September, Conte announced the ministers of his new cabinet, which was sworn in at the Quirinal Palace on the following day.[99] On 9 September 2019 the Chamber of Deputies granted the confidence to the government with 343 votes in favour, 263 against and 3 abstentions.[100][101] On 10 September 2019, in the second vote of confidence in the Senate, 169 lawmakers voted in favour of his government and 133 against.[102]

On 16 September, after few days from the investiture vote, in an interview to la Repubblica, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his intention to leave the PD, launching a new centrist and liberal party named Italia Viva (IV).[103][104] In the interview he confirmed also the support to Conte's government.[105] Two ministers and one undersecretary followed Renzi in his new movement.[106]

In December 2019 the Minister of Education, University and Research Lorenzo Fioramonti resigned after disagreements with the rest of the cabinet regarding the recently approved 2020 budget bill. Fioramonti considered the share of funds dedicated to education and research to be insufficient.[107] Conte took the ministerial role ad interim, and announced his decision to split the Ministry of Education, University and Research into two: a Ministry of Public Education led by former undersecretary Lucia Azzolina (M5S), and a Ministry of University and Research led by the dean of the University of Naples Federico II Gaetano Manfredi (Independent), who were sworn in on 10 January.[108][109]

PoliciesEdit

Economic policiesEdit

 
Conte at the European Council

One of Conte's main proposals was the scheduled reform of the Italian tax system, mainly promoted by the League and characterized by the introduction of flat taxes for businesses and individuals, with a no-tax area for low-income households and some small corrections to keep some degree of tax progression as required by the Italian Constitution.[110][111] The government stressed that they will find the funds to implement it through the so-called "fiscal peace", that is a condonation.[112] However, many important economists[who?] and newspapers like Il Sole 24 Ore denounced that the condonation could not finance all the new tax system based on flat tax.[113]

In 2018, Conte's first government, introduced a flat tax with a 15% rate, applied to small entrepreneurs and self-employed with an amount of annual revenues inferior to €65,000. Despite the so-called "flat regime" was a proposal of the right-wing League, it was confirmed also by Conte's second government, with the centre-left.[114]

During his first cabinet, his government rolled out the so-called "citizens' income" (Italian: reddito di cittadinanza), a system of social welfare provision that provides a basic income and assistance in finding a job in order to help poor people and families.[115][116] The income was set to a maximum of €780 per month, and in its first year the program has almost 2.7 million applications.[117][118] The bill was later confirmed by Conte's second cabinet.[119]

During Conte's governments, more severe punishments for tax dodgers, which are a major problem in Italy, had been approved.[120] With the 2020 financial bill, the government introduced a bill which provided prison for "great tax dodgers".[121]

 
Conte at the European Parliament

In September 2019, at the head of his second government, Conte launched the so-called "Green New Deal", named after the analogous US proposed legislation that aimed to address climate change and economic inequality.[122] In the same period, he praised students who protested against climate change, stating: "The images of the squares of the Fridays for Future are extraordinary, with so many young people participating with such passion. From the government there is the utmost commitment to translate this request for change into concrete solutions. We all have a great responsibility."[123]

In January 2020, the cabinet increased to €100 per month the so-called "Renzi bonus", a monthly allowance introduced by Matteo Renzi's government in 2014, recognized to holders of a total annual income not exceeding €24,600.[124] A total of 11.7 million people benefited of the bonus in 2020.[125]

In February 2020, Conte appointed Mariana Mazzucato as his economic counselor.[126] Mazzucato, a professor at the University College London, is considered one of the most prominent supporter of state intervensionism.[127]

In April 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic which severely affected Europe, Conte became the most vocal supporter of the eurobonds' issuance to face the crisis,[128] describing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) as "completely inadequate".[129] Conte found key allies in France, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Luxembourg, which demanded more to be done in relation to coronavirus pandemic;[130] while Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Estonia strongly opposed the eurobonds.[131] Conte, during an interview to German weekly Die Zeit, questioned: "What do we want to do in Europe? Does each member state want to go its own way?",[132] he also added: "If we are a union, now is the time to prove it."[133] On 8 April, he stated "we should loosened European fiscal rules, otherwise we would have to cancel Europe and everyone will do on their own."[134] On 23 April, the European Council agreed on a ESM without conditionality to sustain direct and indirect healthcare costs and the implementation of the so-called recovery fund to help the reconstruction.[135]

 
Prime Minister Conte at the European Council, in July 2020

On 13 May, the Council of Ministers approved the so-called "Relaunch decree", with a budget of nearly €55 billion.[136] The decree included an "emergency income" of €400 to €800 for lower-income families, a bonus of €600 to €1,000 to self-employed workers, a reduction of €4 billion in taxes for all businesses with total annual revenues below €250 million, more than €3 billion in investments in the healthcare system, and a "holiday bonus" of €500 for lower-income families.[137] The decree also provided economic aids to the tourism sector and regularization of nearly 600,000 undocumented immigrants, mainly employed in agricultural works.[138]

From 13 to 21 June, Prime Minister Conte organized a conference called Progettiamo il Rilancio (English: We Design the Relaunch),[139][140] better known as "estates general",[141] in Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome, with the aim of "forging a coherent and well-funded plan for Italy's economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis".[142] The government invited prominent international politicians like Paolo Gentiloni, David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen, economists like Christine Lagarde, Ignazio Visco, Kristalina Georgieva, Olivier Jean Blanchard, Esther Duflo and Tito Boeri, and managers like Vittorio Colao.[143] The three main trade unions of the country, CGIL, CISL and UIL, and the Italian industrial employers' confederation, Confindustria, took part to the estates general too.[144] The Prime Minister invited also the opposition leaders, however, on 10 June, Matteo Salvini, Giorgia Meloni and Antonio Tajani stated that they would not participate to the conference.[145]

From 17 to 21 July, Giuseppe Conte took part in one of the longest European Councils in history. After days of harsh confrontations, especially between Conte and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte,[146] the European leaders agreed on a new proposal by the President of the Council, Charles Michel, which provided a budget of €750 billion for the so-called Recovery Fund, composed of €390 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans.[147] Italy would benefit from nearly €82 billion in grants and €127 billion in loans.[148] Prime Minister Conte described the deal as an "historic day for Italy and Europe".[149]

ImmigrationEdit

 
Conte with President Donald Trump. The U.S. President often praised Conte's immigration policies

When Conte became Prime Minister in 2018, he acted quickly to deliver on promises to the government's anti-immigration base through strict controls on immigration to Italy. Since 2013, Italy had absorbed over 700,000 African migrants arriving by boat from Libya.[150][151] During his premiership, Conte and his Interior Minister Matteo Salvini promoted stricter policies regarding immigration and public security.[152]

After Conte's approval on 10 June 2018, Salvini announced the closure of Italian ports, stating: "Everyone in Europe is doing their own business, now Italy is also raising its head. Let's stop the business of illegal immigration".[153] The vessel Aquarius, which is operated jointly by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée and carried more than 600 migrants, was refused a port of disembarkation by the Italian authorities despite having been told to rescue the migrants by the same co-ordination centre. The Italian authority told the vessel to ask Malta to provide a disembarkation port, but Malta also refused.[154] On the following day, the new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accepted the disputed migrant ship.[155] Conte accused French President Emmanuel Macron of hypocrisy after Macron said Italy was acting "irresponsibly" by refusing entry to migrants and suggested it had violated international maritime law.[156]

On 24 September 2018, the Council of Ministers approved the so-called "Salvini decree", which contained a series of hardline measures that will see the Italian government abolish key forms of protection for migrants and make it easier for them to be deported. The decree will also suspend the refugee application process of those who are considered "socially dangerous" or who have been convicted of a crime.[157]

On 23 September 2019, Italy and other four European countries, Germany, France, Malta and Finland, agreed on a draft deal to present to other EU countries on how to manage the migrant crisis and distribute those saved from the Mediterranean.[158] This agreement was considered a win for Conte and his new interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese.[159][160][161]

On 8 April 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government closed all Italian ports until 31 July, stating that they do not ensure the necessary requirements for the classification and definition of "safe place", established by the Hamburg Rules on maritime search and rescue."[162]

Ponte Morandi collapseEdit

 
Conte at the inauguration of the new bridge, in August 2020

On 14 August 2018, during a torrential rainstorm over the city of Genoa, a 210-metre (690 ft) section of Ponte Morandi collapsed.[163][163] Between 30 and 35 cars and three trucks were reported to have fallen from the bridge, killing 43 people.[164][165]

The day after the collapse, Conte declared a state of emergency for the Liguria region, which would last for a year.[166] After few days, Conte appointed Marco Bucci, mayor of Genoa, as extraordinary commissioner for the reconstruction.[167] Moreover, the government put pressure on the managers of the Italian highway company, Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI), which is part of the Benetton family's owned Atlantia.[168] The M5S asked the revocation of license to Benetton family and the nationalization of ASPI.[169] However, despite bitter controversies, the revocation was not immediately implemented.

The last two cable-stayed pillars of the bridge were demolished using a tonne of explosives on 28 June 2019. The complete bridge was planned to be removed, along with multiple damaged houses in the surrounding area.[170] The reconstruction of a replacement bridge, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, started on 25 June 2019 and was completed on 28 April 2020.[171]

On 3 August 2020, the new bridge, named "Saint George Bridge", from the patron saint of the Republic of Genoa, was inaugurated by Conte and President Mattarella and opened to motor vehicles after a few days.[172][173]

Nationalization of the highway companyEdit

In July 2020, the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Paola De Micheli, announced that the license would be temporarily assigned to ASPI.[174] This statement caused harsh criticism both from the right-wing opposition and the M5S.[175] On 13 July, Conte definitely stopped any possible prorogation of the license to ASPI, stating that the company's proposal "was totally unacceptable".[176] He also added: "The members of Benetton family has not yet understood that this government will not accept to sacrifice the public good on the altar of their interests."[177]

On 15 July, the government and Atlantia reached an agreement which brought to the nationalization of the national highway company ASPI,[178] with the state that would held a majority partecipation through Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, while Atlantia would kept only 10% of the company's stocks.[179] Then, in a second phase, a listing is planned, with the aim of creating a company with a widespread shareholder base.[180]

Constitutional reformEdit

Under Conte's governments, the Italian Parliament approved the so-called "Fraccaro Reform", from the name of the M5S deputy who was the bill's first signatory.[181] The reform was finally approved by the Parliament, with the fourth and final vote in the Chamber of Deputies on 8 October with 553 votes in favor and 14 against. In the final vote, the bill was supported both by the majority and the opposition;[182] only the liberal party More Europe (+Eu) and other small groups voted against.[183] The reform provided a cut in the number of MPs, which would shrink from 630 to 400 deputies and from 315 to 200 senators.[184]

After the approval, Conte stated: "The cut to the parliamentarians is a reform that will bring to a greater efficiency of the parliamentary jobs. Now, citizens to be closer to the institutions. It is a historical passage that, together with other projected reform, will be a prelude to greater efficiency of our parliamentary system."[185]

The referendum to approve the reform was scheduled on 29 March, however it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic which severely affected Italy.[186]

Coronavirus pandemicEdit

 
Italian government task force to face the coronavirus pandemic

In February 2020, Italy became one of the world's main centres for confirmed cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that originated in China.[187] As of July 2020, more than 245,000 coronavirus cases and 35,000 deaths were confirmed, affecting mainly Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont.[188]

In late January, the government banned all flights from and to China, becoming the first European country to adopt this measure.[189] On 22 February, the Council of Ministers announced a bill to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, quarantining more than 50,000 people from 11 different municipalities in Northern Italy. Prime Minister Conte stated: "In the outbreak areas, entry and exit will not be provided. Suspension of work activities and sport events has already been ordered in those areas."[190]

Schools were closed in 10 municipalities in Lombardy, one in Veneto and in Emilia-Romagna. In some areas, all public events were cancelled and commercial activities were halted.[191] Regional train services suspended the stops in the most affected areas – with trains not stopping at Codogno, Maleo and Casalpusterlengo stations.[192][193] Universities in Lombardy suspended all activities from 23 February.[194][195] After few days, schools and universities closed in the whole country.[196]

On 8 March 2020, Prime Minister Conte extended the quarantine to all of Lombardy and 14 other northern provinces, putting more than a quarter of the national population under lockdown.[197] On the following day, he announced in a press conference that all measures previously applied only in the so-called "red zones" had been extended to the whole country, putting de facto 60 million people in lockdown. He later proceeded to officially sign the executive decree.[198][199] This measure was described as the largest lockdown in human history.[200][201][202][203]

 
Conte speaks with Lombard mayors in April 2020

The lockdown measures, despite being widely approved by public opinion,[204] were also described as the largest suppression of constitutional rights in the history of the republic.[205][206]

On 20 March, the Ministry of Health ordered tighter regulations on free movement. The new measures banned open-air sports and running, except individually and in close proximity of one's residence. Parks, playgrounds and public green were closed down. Furthermore, movement across the country was further restricted, by banning "any movement towards a residence different from the main one", including holiday homes, during weekends and holidays.[207] While on the following day, Conte announced further restrictions within the nationwide lockdown, by halting all non-essential production, industries and businesses in Italy,[208] following the rise in the number of new cases and deaths in the previous days.[209][210]

On 24 March, in a live-streamed press conference, Conte announced a new decree approved by the Council of Ministers. The decree imposed higher fines for the violation of the restrictive measures, and a regulation of the relationship between government and Parliament during the emergency. It included also the possibility of reducing or suspending public and private transport, and gave the regional governments power to impose additional restrictive regulations in their Regions for a maximum of seven days before being confirmed by national decree.[211][212]

On 1 April, Conte's government extended the period of lockdown until 13 April.[213] While on 6 April, Conte announced a new economic stimulus plan, consisting of €200 billion of state-guaranteed loans to companies and additional €200 billion of guarantees to support exports.[214]

On 10 April, Conte made further announcements extending the lockdown until the 3rd of May, allowing some specific businesses, like bookstores and silviculture activities, to reopen under specific safe measures.[215] On the same day, he appointed a task force to relaunch Italy after the crisis; the team was led by Vittorio Colao and composed by a total of nineteen members, chosen among university professors, managers and public administration officers, which notably included Mariana Mazzucato and Enrico Giovannini.[216]

 
Conte during the Republic Day, wearing a protection mask

On 26 April, the Prime Minister announced the so-called "Phase 2", that would start from May 4. Movements across regions were still forbidden, while the ones between municipalities and provinces were allowed only for work and health reasons as well as for visit relatives.[217] Moreover, he allowed the re-opening of closed factories, but schools, bars, restaurants and barbers were still closed.[218]

On 18 May, the lockdown officially ended and the government allowed the re-openings of bars, restaurants, barbers and gyms. However, travels across regions were still limited.[219] After a few days, the government proposed the recruiment of 60,000 volunteers, known as "civic assistants", to help oversee social distancing.[220] The measure, announced by Francesco Boccia, the regional affairs minister, was heavily criticised by both the opposition and Renzi's Italia Viva;[221] Brothers of Italy's leader, Giorgia Meloni, accused the government of pursuing an authoritarian drift.[222]

On 1 June, the Ministry of Health launched the Immuni app for smartphone,[223] a contact-tracing app, designed to help authorities manage the so-called "Phase 2" of the coronavirus crisis.[224] The app aimed to notify users at risk of carrying the virus as early as possible, even when they were asymptomatic. These users can then self-isolate to avoid infecting others.[225] The opposition harshly criticized the app, accusing the government of establishing an Orwell-like Big Brother;[226] in the first weeks the app was downloaded by more than four million people.[227][228][229]

On 28 and 29 July, the Parliament approved the extension until October 2020 of the state of emergency, asked by Conte.[230] The state of emergency, which was firstly introduced in January 2020, gave greater powers to the Prime Minister and to the government, in facing the crisis.[231] The extention created lot of criticism both from the opposition and the liberal wing of the government.[232] The right-wing leader Meloni accused the government of pursuing a "dangerous liberticidal drift", asserting that the emergency was already over.[233] Conte described Meloni's accuse as "dangerous and false",[234] adding that the extention of the emergency was a "legitimate and inevitable measure", which became necessary because "the virus continues to circulate in the country".[235]

Foreign policyEdit

 
Conte with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow

Since the beginning of his term as prime minister, Conte's foreign policy has been characterized by a lenient approach to Russia. For example, he pressed for the repeal of international sanctions against Russia, which according to him "damage the Italian economy".[236] He also considered Russia a strategic partner in the fight against Islamic terrorism.[237] However, Conte stressed that under his leadership Italy will remain an active member of NATO and a close ally of the United States.[238] In March 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, after a phone call with Conte, Russian president Vladimir Putin arranged the Russian army to send military medics, special disinfection vehicles and other medical equipment to Italy, which was the European country hardest hit by coronavirus.[239]

During his premiership, Conte built a close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump. Since the beginning of Conte's government, Trump considered him a key ally during international meetings.[240] On 8 and 9 June, Conte participated in his first G7 summit, hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada.[241] During the summit, he was the only leader to back President Trump and his proposal to readmit Russia into the G7.[242] However, he later assumed a more pro-European view, shared by the other five leaders, condemning Trump tariffs on steel and aluminium exported by the European Union.[243] On the following day, Conte was thanked for his positions on Russia and his populist stance by President Trump, who invited him to the White House.[244] On 28 June, Conte participated in his first European Council meeting and blocked a joint EU trade and defense statement criticizing Trump's tariff policy.[245]

 
Conte with U.S. President Donald Trump in December 2019

In June 2018, Trump praised Conte, describing him as a "really great leader" and "very strong on immigration".[246] Trump also endorsed Conte during the 2019 government crisis, hoping that he could remain Prime Minister.[247] On 31 March 2020, President Trump announced that the United States would send 100 million dollars of medical aids to Italy.[248] After few days, during an interview at the NBC, Conte described Trump as "Italy's most true and loyal friend".[249] On 11 April, Trump issued an executive order in which he allowed U.S. militaries deployed in Italy to assist Italian law enforcement in facing the crisis.[250]

At the beginning of his political career, Conte was described as a populist and Eurosceptic politician, openly critic towards the EU, whose economic and financial rules were described as "old and outdated".[251] However, he later toned down his Eurosceptic rhetoric, thus still remaining a vocal anti-austerity leader, as it became evidence during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which severely affected Europe.[252]

In March 2019, Conte and the Chinese President Xi Jinping signed in Rome 29 economic and institutional agreements amounting to 2.5 billion euros, including a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative investments program.[253][254] Prime Minister Conte's position on the Chinese investments program was criticized by the other major Western powers.[255]

In August 2019, amid of a serious government crisis, Conte took part, as caretaker Prime Minister, in the 45th G7 summit in Biarritz, in what it was believed to be his last summit as head of government.[256] The main topics of the summit included global trade, climate change, taxing technology companies,[257] but also Iran nuclear deal,[258] and 2019 Amazon wildfires.[259]

 
Giuseppe Conte with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in 2020

Conte criticized the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria. He stated that the offensive "puts the region's civilians and stability in jeopardy."[260]

In January 2020, the situation of the Libyan Civil War became increasingly worrying, with the troops of field marshal Khalifa Haftar approaching Tripoli. During the crisis, Prime Minister Conte had a series of bilateral meetings in Rome both with Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj, the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, who are considered two of the main contenders in the civil war.[261] After pressures from the international community, on 12 January Haftar announced a ceasefire.[262]

In November 2018, Silvia Romano, a 23-year-old Italian aid worker, was kidnapped in Kenya by a group of terrorists linked to Al-Shabaab.[263] On 9 May 2020, Conte announced her liberation in a tweet.[264] Immediately after the announcement, speculations rose about the ransom paid to the kidnappers, which according to some sources stood at around €4 million.[265] Moreover, Romano became the target of a hate campaign by the right-wing opposition due to her conversion to Islam, occurred during the captivity.[266] During a discussion in the Chamber of Deputies, Alessandro Pagano, a member of the League, called her a "neo-terrorist".[267]

Political views and public imageEdit

 
Conte among people affected by the 2016 Central Italy earthquakes

During his first cabinet, Conte has often been considered a neo-nationalist politician,[268] however, since September 2019, when he became the head of a centre-left coalition government, he slightly toned down his nationalist rhetoric,[269] while he continued to use various instances of the so-called banal nationalism.[270][271] Despite being labeled as a post-ideological leader,[272] Conte described his political ideal as "new humanism".[273][274]

During an interview in 2018, Conte said he used to vote for the Democratic Party before approaching the M5S during the late 2010s.[275] He also added that today "the ideological schemes of the 20th century are no longer adequate to represent the current political system" and it should be "more important and correct to evaluate the work of a political force on how it is positioned on the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms".[276]

In his inaugural speech at the Senate on 5 June 2018,[277][278] in response to attacks on government political forces accused of being populist and anti-establishment, Conte replied that "if populism is the attitude of the ruling class to listen to the people's needs [...] and if anti-establishment means aiming at introducing a new system able to remove old privileges and encrusted power, well, these political forces deserve both these epithets".[279][280][281]

He also opposed the "hypertrophy of Italian laws", advocating the repeal of useless laws and supported a simplification of bureaucracy.[282] As a professor, Conte strongly opposed the school reform legislation promoted by Matteo Renzi's government in 2015, known as "The Good School", which, according to him, must be completely revised.[283] Contrasts with Matteo Renzi became evident during Conte's second government. Despite the cabinet is supported, among others, by Renzi's Italia Viva, the former Prime Minister has often accused Conte of being a populist politician, threatening to withdrew his party's support.[284]

According to public opinion surveys, Conte's approval rating was always above 50% during all his first cabinet, then it dropped to 40% in the early months of his second government.[285] However, in March 2020, amid the coronavirus crisis, his approval rating rose above 70%, one of the highest ever ratings for an Italian Prime Minister.[286][287] In July 2020, according to Ilvo Diamanti's opinion polling firm, Demos&Pi, Conte was selected as the best Prime Minister of the last 25 years.[288] Moreover, with more than 3 million followers, Conte is one of the most followed European leaders on Facebook.[289]

Personal lifeEdit

Giuseppe Conte married Valentina Fico, a lawyer from Rome and daughter of a former director of the Santa Cecilia conservatory.[290] They have a child, Niccolò, born in 2007.[291] However, they divorced after a few years.[292] Conte is currently engaged with Olivia Paladino (born 1979),[293] daughter of the Roman entrepreneur Cesare Paladino and the Swedish actress Ewa Aulin.[294]

Conte is an avid supporter of A.S. Roma, a passion that arose when he studied in Rome at the Sapienza University.[295]

He is a Roman Catholic and a devout votary to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.[296] In addition to his native Italian, Conte also speaks English.[297][298][299]

ControversiesEdit

 
Giuseppe Conte in the Prime Minister's office, in 2020

On 21 May 2018, when Conte was proposed to President Mattarella as candidate for prime minister,[54] The New York Times questioned his summer stays at New York University (NYU) listed in his official curriculum vitae[35] in an article asserting that a NYU spokeswoman could not find Conte in university "records as either a student or faculty member".[56][300] Similar doubts arose concerning his study period in France at the Sorbonne University.[301]

The following day, the Associated Press reported in an article published also by The New York Times that the NYU spokeswoman added that "while Mr. Conte had no official status at NYU, he was granted permission to conduct research in the NYU law library" during the period listed in his official curriculum vitae.[35][302] Similarly, the Duquesne University of Pittsburgh and the University of Malta found no record of him in their archives,[303] although it was confirmed that Conte held lectures at the old university building in Valletta, Malta, for the Foundation for International Studies.[304] Yale University, contacted by another newspaper, confirmed that he was a visiting scholar there for three months.[305]

Moreover, Conte stated in his CV that he had worked for his legal studies at the Kulturinstitut in Vienna, Austria, but this is a language school, not a law school.[301]

Authored booksEdit

  • with Landini Sara (1996). Il volontariato. Libertà dei privati e mediazione giuridica dello Stato. Rome: Pioda. ISBN 9788899459772.
  • Matrimonio civile e teoria della simulazione. Rome: Pioda. 1996. OCLC 1088868085.
  • La simulazione del matrimonio nella teoria del negozio giuridico. Padua: CEDAM. 1999. ISBN 9788813220068.
  • Le regole della solidarità. Iniziative non-profit dei privati e mediazione dei pubblici poteri. Rome: Pioda. 2001.
  • La responsabilità sociale dell'impresa. Tra diritto, etica ed economia. Bari: Laterza. 2008. ISBN 9788842085928.
  • with Vigoriti Vincenzo (2010). Futuro giustizia azione collettiva mediazione. Turin: Giappicelli. ISBN 9788834898406.
  • Il danno non-patrimoniale. Milan: Giuffrè. 2018.
  • La formazione del contratto. Milan: Giuffrè. 2018. ISBN 9788814203770.
  • L'impresa responsabile. Milan: Giuffrè. 2018. ISBN 9788814227035.

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External linksEdit

  • University of Florence personal page (including CV and publication list in English)
  • Giuseppe Conte publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
Political offices
Preceded by
Paolo Gentiloni
Prime Minister of Italy
2018–present
Incumbent
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Roberto Fico
as President of the Chamber of Deputies
Order of precedence of Italy
as Prime Minister
Succeeded by
Marta Cartabia
as President of the Constitutional Court