Italy’s new prime minister makes his first speech

Giuseppe Conte, the leader of Italy's new populist government, vowed on Tuesday to redistribute migrants in the EU and review EU sanctions against Russia, in his first policy speech to lawmakers since being sworn in.

Italy's new prime minister makes his first speech
Italy new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, made his first appearance in parliament today. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The prime minister addressed the Senate ahead of two parliamentary confidence votes expected to confirm his new cabinet, formed from a coalition of far-right and eurosceptic parties. His government was sworn in on Friday after almost three months of political turmoil that alarmed EU officials and spooked financial markets.

A lawyer with little political and no government experience, Conte was nominated by far-right League leader Matteo Salvini and the head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement Luigi Di Maio – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers.

Conte's maiden policy speech reaffirmed several of the coalition's key manifesto themes, including a tough line on migrants, rejection of economic austerity and conciliatory gestures towards Moscow.


“We want to reduce our public debt, but we want to do so with growth and not with austerity measures,” he told senators.

“We will strongly call for the Dublin Regulation to be overhauled in order to obtain respect for a fair distribution of responsibilities and to achieve an automatic system of compulsory distribution of asylum seekers.”

On Russia, which faces EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Conte said: “We will promote a review of the sanctions system.” 

Summits on horizon

Both former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party – a campaign ally of the League – and the outgoing centre-left Democratic Party have said they will not vote in favour of the new government.

But the alliance between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League is expected to pass the confidence votes in the Senate on Tuesday and in the lower Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday as the two parties hold a majority in both houses.

On the 53-year-old prime minister's agenda in his first weeks in office are a Group of Seven summit in Canada this week and a key EU summit at the end of the month.

Conte's low profile has fuelled speculation that he will take a back seat to his two powerful deputies. Salvini is to be interior minister in the new cabinet and Di Maio will hold the economic development portfolio.

READ ALSO: What will Italy's new government mean for migrants?

Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

'Good times over'

On Monday, Di Maio met representatives of food deliverers in Italy's gig economy. Afterwards Di Maio described the workers as “the symbol of an abandoned generation,” and underlined the need to give them “job security and a dignified minimum wage”.

Salvini has wasted no time addressing immigration. Visiting Sicily, where thousands of migrants have arrived in recent years, he declared at the weekend that Italy “cannot be Europe's refugee camp”. The 45-year-old has repeatedly promised to cut arrivals and accelerate expulsions from a country where around 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

“The good times for illegals are over – get ready to pack your bags,” he said on Saturday.

European Union interior ministers are meeting on Tuesday to discuss possible reforms of the bloc's controversial Dublin regulation, whereby refugees must file for asylum in the first member state they enter.

Salvini has blasted the regulation as unfairly burdening Mediterranean countries and leading to “an obvious imbalance in management, numbers and costs”. 

He and Di Maio have been heavily criticised for remaining silent on the murder of Soumaila Sacko, a 29-year-old Malian who died from gunshot wounds after an unknown assailant fired at him and two others on Saturday.

However, on Tuesday Conte called the incident “tragic and troubling”, adding that Sacko was “one of thousands of day labourers with correct immigration papers who every day in this country go to work in conditions below any level of dignity”.

He added: “Politics should bear the responsibility of these peoples' ordeals and ensure pathways of legality, which is the guiding light of our government programme”. 

READ MORE: Migrant workers in southern Italy strike after Malian man shot dead

Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

By Lucy Adler


Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.