National Post (Latest Edition)

Populist coalition takes power in Italy

- Nick SquireS Daily Telegraph with files from The Washington Post

ROME • Italy’s new populist coalition was sworn in Friday as Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, apologized for remarks he made that suggested that Italians in the south of the country were work-shy and corrupt.

The swearing-in took place in the Quirinale Palace, once the home of popes but now the residence of Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, who clashed with the populists during negotiatio­ns to form an administra­tion after three months of post-election deadlock.

Western Europe’s first populist, Euroscepti­c government plans to slash taxes, spend billions on increased social welfare and demand the reform of EU rules on budgets and migrants.

Markets, already wary of the populist program, took fright this week at the prospect of an incoming administra­tion intent on challengin­g Europe.

“Convincing financial markets that these proposals will be ‘mainstream­ed’ at some point will be an uphill struggle for the new executive,” LC Macro Advisors Ltd. founder Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury, wrote in a note to clients.

“The risk of a Syriza-like trajectory should not be underestim­ated,” he said, referring to the radical left party which brought Greece close to being forced out of the euro.

Giuseppe Conte, a law professor who only found himself in the spotlight 10 days ago, was sworn in as prime minister. Conte will face a stiff challenge in mediating the competing demands of Luigi Di Maio, the head of the anti-establishm­ent Five Star Movement, and Matteo Salvini, who heads the hard-right anti-immigratio­n League.

Di Maio was sworn in as labour and economic developmen­t minister, where he hopes to deliver on a promise of providing a 780 euro ($1,180) monthly income to Italy’s unemployed, as long as they seek work.

Salvini was appointed interior minister, a key position that will enable him to spearhead his pledge to expel up to half a million undocument­ed migrants who have arrived in recent years from Libya. He also wants to reduce funding for migrant reception centres and steer it toward repatriati­ng those who are not granted asylum.

“Five billion euros to look after migrants that live in Italy and receive breakfast, lunch and dinner is way too much. Let’s see if we can cut it,” he said after the swearing-in ceremony.

The incoming coalition’s fractious relationsh­ip with Brussels reached new lows on Thursday when Juncker, EC president, said: “Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work (and) less corruption.” A spokespers­on for the EC said Mr Juncker “deeply regrets” the comments, which she said were interprete­d in “a misleading way.”

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