CERNOBBIO, Italy —Giuseppe Conte’s mentor on Friday defended his controversial application for a prestigious university professorship, saying the Italian prime minister had broken no laws and should not withdraw from the race.
Guido Alpa, who is retiring from Rome’s Sapienza University and whose job Conte had hoped to take, said the PM had not withdrawn his application for the professorship in private law.
“Who said he withdrew? I don’t see why he would withdraw, and if it is true, it hurts. He deserves that job,” Alpa was quoted as saying by Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
However, the prime minister’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that Conte will not take an exam which had been scheduled for Monday. Three other candidates are still expected to take the test.
Conte first applied for the professorship at Sapienza University in February, before he became prime minister at the head of a coalition between the populist 5Stars and the far-right League.
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 publication of the POLITICO story, Conte said: “I will have to reconsider my participation due to institutional engagements.”
According to two people with knowledge of the application process, Conte has not renounced his application for the job in writing. However, Gaetano Manfredi, the president of the National Association of Deans, said that not taking the exam effectively means formally renouncing the job, and his “sacrifice should be acknowledged,” according to Il Giornale.
The prime minister’s plan to secure his future employment continued to attract widespread criticism Friday.
Paolo Mieli, a journalist and historian, said the “news was more shocking than the court’s decision to confiscate the League’s assets … it is striking Conte didn’t take a step back from the exam in the past three months, it’s a horrible thing to ask a panel to evaluate the prime minister,” he said, referring to an Italian court ordering the immediate seizure of €49 million following a fraud investigation into the ruling, far-right League.
“He must have thought his prime minister mandate won’t last very long,” Mieli added.
Francesco Verderami, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, wrote “aside from the fact that in other countries Conte’s rushed and clumsy backtracking wouldn’t have been enough, the news politically damages Italy.”