ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would withdraw his application for a professorship at Sapienza University in Rome out of “personal sensitivity,” although he rejected criticism that it represented a conflict of interest.
A POLITICO investigation revealed on Thursday that Conte had been shortlisted for the prestigious post. Later that day, he pledged to “reconsider” his decision to contest the position, but on Monday morning, the university confirmed to this publication that Conte’s application was still live.
In a three-minute Facebook video Monday evening, the prime minister said that he “would have liked to take part like an ordinary citizen but will renounce for reasons of personal sensitivity. I don’t want anyone to think I have taken advantage of my role in any way.”
Conte went on to claim that some of the media reports about the episode “are defamatory,” adding that “I respect the freedom of the press but this is an unacceptable way to express it.”
The PM said the Sapienza job would have been a step up from the professorship at the University of Florence that he currently holds — he is on sabbatical from that post during his stint as prime minister — and that he applied for the job in Rome because his son lives in the capital and he wanted to spend more time at home.
The prime minister said there was no legal conflict of interest in him pursuing the application for the new role. He said he originally applied for the post in February, “when it was impossible to anticipate” that he would become the prime minister at the head of a coalition between the populist 5Stars and the far-right League.
In the video, Conte rejected criticism of his decision to continue with the application but said that following the renewed barrage of negative press Monday, he had taken the decision to withdraw his application. “Some people said I was looking for another job because the government won’t last much longer and that I am only a part-time prime minister — but this government will last five years,” he said.
Conte had been due to sit an exam as part of the selection process for the private law professorship on Monday. But the judging panel at Sapienza University told the two other candidates, professors Mauro Orlandi and Giovanni Perlingieri, that the prime minister would not sit the test that day and offered them the option to postpone. They decided not to go ahead with the oral exam after a brief consultation with each other.
Conte also said sitting the exam wouldn’t have taken up much time given the oral test only lasts “15 minutes.”
Sapienza University was not immediately available for comment to confirm whether Conte’s job application has been formally withdrawn.