Italy’s PM novice completes G7 baptism of fire

A month ago, he was a little-known law professor. On Saturday, Giuseppe Conte was heading home to Italy as a fully-fledged member of the most exclusive club of world leaders.

Italy's PM novice completes G7 baptism of fire
Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

And he may just have found a new ally in Donald Trump. After the political novice took over as premier on June 1st, commentators were swift to question his ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with the  likes of Trump and Germany's Angela Merkel at this weekend's G7 summit in Canada.

While Europe's leaders have often allowed Germany and France to coordinate a common stance at international gatherings, Conte raised eyebrows at the start of the summit by siding with Trump on the issue of Russia's readmission to their club.

Conte turned to Trump's favorite medium Twitter to make his point, in a sign that he is another world leader willing to use social media to bypass journalists.

He later appeared to fall into line with Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron by agreeing it was in fact still too early for Moscow to be brought back into the fold, four years after it was expelled for annexing

But Italy's left-wing Repubblica newspaper pointed out how Conte watched the evening's entertainment sat alongside Trump, who might otherwise have found himself isolated in Canada.

And the Italian also received an early invite to the White House although a date has yet been set.

“Just met the new Prime Minister of Italy, @GiuseppeConteIT, a really great guy. He will be honored in Washington, at the @WhiteHouse, shortly,” Trump said on Twitter after flying out of Canada.

“He will do a great job – the people of Italy got it right!”

Taking on Brussels

That Conte should find common ground with Trump should be no great surprise given that they both owe their rise in large part to a backlash against globalization and the political establishment.

But if Trump is the unabashed one-man leader of a movement, the mild-mannered Conte has been portrayed as the puppet of Italy's far-right League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

Trump has railed against the “swamp” establishment in Washington, and Conte made it clear on his international debut that he was willing to take on powerbrokers from Brussels.

After talks with European Union Commission supremo Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk, Conte told reporters he had insisted on an overhaul to the so-called Dublin Regulations which require people seeking asylum to register in the first EU state they enter.

Italy has long argued that the rules as they stand are unfair given so many migrants trying to seek asylum from across the Mediterranean land in boats on its southern coast.

The topic is expected to feature at an EU summit in Brussels at the end of the month, but Conte said that he had expressed “Italy's total dissatisfaction with the proposals” that are currently on the table in his meeting with Juncker and Tusk.

“Italy has been left on his own on this issue but we must have reforms and we want to see some more solidarity within Europe,” he told Italian reporters. 

By Laurence Benhamou