The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has defended Giuseppe Conte, a candidate to be Italy’s next prime minister, over speculation that he overstated his affiliations with an elite international university.
They said the insinuations indicated fears of the changes coming under a 5-Star government in coalition with the right-wing League.
The Movement said in a statement that the 53-year-old law professor “had never boasted” of overseas degrees, but had “stayed abroad to study, enrich his knowledge and perfect his juridical English”.
They added: “For a professor of his level, the opposite would have been strange.” Conte is currently a professor at the University of Florence, where colleagues and students alike praised him as a capable choice, even if he lacked political experience.
Conte also has solid institutional Catholic credentials, teaching at the Vatican-affiliated LUMSA university in the mid-1990s and having close ties with Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, one of the behind-the-scenes power brokers in the Italian church and at the Vatican.
A 12-page CV covering the years since his 1988 law degree at Rome’s Sapienza University includes references to stays at an array of top universities in the United States, Britain and France, without specifying what studies exactly he had undertaken.
The lack of specificity created a sensation in the Italian media. The CV said Conte “stayed” at Paris Sorbonne University in 2000 and Cambridge University’s Girton College in 2001 for scientific research.
It also said he “perfected and updated his studies” during stays at New York University of at least a month during the summers of 2008-2012. Cambridge declined to confirm any affiliation, citing privacy, and the Sorbonne and New York University did not respond to queries.
Conte’s CV also says he taught a course in European contract and banking law at the University of Malta in the summer of 1997.
However, the University of Malta said it had no record of Conte “ever forming part of the resident academic staff”, adding that that did not exclude that “he may have been involved in lecturing duties during short courses organised in the summer of 1997” by a now-defunct foundation that worked with the university.
More significant would be for Conte to establish that he would have the independence to authoritatively lead a 5-Star-League government after both 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini agreed to step aside.