ROME — Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would reconsider whether to take part in the application process for a prestigious academic position following an investigation by POLITICO that triggered an avalanche of protest from opposition politicians.
Conte, who was plucked from relative obscurity at the University of Florence to lead the nation in June, had been due to sit an exam in legal English next Monday, competing against three other candidates. He first applied for the professorship in private law at Rome’s esteemed Sapienza University in February, before he became prime minister at the head of a coalition between the populist 5Stars and the far-right League.
But documents seen by this publication confirm that the prime minister was shortlisted for the post. Legal scholars said his application was in breach of laws designed to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest in recruitment to public universities.
Speaking at a press conference in Rome on Thursday evening, after the government approved new anti-corruption measures, Conte said: “I will have to reconsider my participation due to institutional engagements.”
The revelation that Conte was still in the running for the post prompted protests and derision.
He went on to say he will not take the exam on Monday and the idea “a prime minister who spoke in English with Donald Trump will sit an English exam is amusing.” Meanwhile, the justice minister, Alfonso Bonafede, called the day “historic” in the fight against corruption within the public administration.
Earlier in the evening, speaking at a Democratic Party event in Ravenna, in northern Italy, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi mocked the government’s decision to set up a task force to monitor the legality of competitive exams for public posts. “I hope he won’t monitor the legality of the one Conte is taking part in,” Renzi said.
The former prime minister also said Conte is often absent from Cabinet meetings because he “is a part-time prime minister and he was busy studying for a legal English exam these days.”
The revelation that Conte was still in the running for the post, despite holding high public office, prompted protests and derision after POLITICO broke the news Thursday afternoon.
Former undersecretary of state for economic development Ivan Scalfarotto tweeted: “Unbelievable, Conte must not have much confidence in the length of his PM mandate and he’s already looking for another occupation.”
The deputy Senate speaker, Simona Malpezzi, a Democratic Party senator, said Conte’s attempt to secure the Sapienza professorship “is against Italian law, university rules and common sense.”
Democratic Party MP Alessia Morani, said her colleagues in parliament would not let the matter lie. “Conte better not think this is over, this will be the subject of an upcoming parliamentary hearing. I have just presented the motion,” she said.
A spokesperson for Sapienza University declined to comment.