How Giuseppe Conte Is Restoring Italy’s Credibility

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has received the highest approval rating among his former colleagues registered in the last 10 years. 

Giuseppe Conte
CC-BY-4.0: © European Union (2019)European Parliament

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has received the highest approval rating among his former colleagues registered in the last 10 years

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been extremely active constructing and implementing safety regulations regarding the ever-increasing spread of COVID-19, the medical name for the Coronavirus, the epidemic that has officially affected populations worldwide. Conte may have not begun adequately when he took office in 2018, yet appreciation among the public increased last summer in 2019 and his active stand to combat the virus has even further increased his popularity.

In the current circumstances being a good political leader is appreciated, but shouldn’t it be expected? — A good political leader being a varying definition.

Conte is the prime example of how Italians had lost the idea of what being a good leader meant. After years of blabbering promises from politicians, finally a person who truly represents Italy took charge and is gaining some respect for it. In this latest article, Conte mentioned that he was afraid that his safety regulations would be too controversial, but he made a decision anyway and enforced them.

On a general political scale, these last 10 years Italians have missed decisive approaches. A population filled with passionate people, however apparently without a spine and unable to act seriously. It seems that we lack the middle ground between what Matteo Salvini is with his populist vision versus the indecisive Matteo Renzi, who simply resigned once he realized he couldn’t have what he wanted, the way a child would.

Who is Giuseppe Conte?

Born in a town in Apulia, Giuseppe Conte studied to become a lawyer, graduating in law in Rome in 1988. He began his political career in 2013, when he was elected by the Chamber of Deputies as a member of the Bureau of Administrative Justice, the self-governing body of administrative magistrates.

In 2018 he was selected by Luigi di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), as the future Minister of Public Administration in his cabinet following the 2019 general election. However, the disagreement observed between the two leading parties, the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League unable to form a cabinet after various attempts, led to Italian President Sergio Mattarella giving them an ultimatum to provide a new government arrangement. To this end, Giuseppe Conte was selected to be Prime Minister but also as a neutral technocratic overseer.

It was in June 2018 that Conte was sworn in as the new prime minister, succeeding democrat Paolo Gentiloni. Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini were appointed Deputy Prime Ministers, while di Maio was also appointed Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies and Salvini as Minister of the Interior.

A difficult time came less than a year later as Salvini announced a motion of no confidence — an official motion signed by multiple members of parliament indicating that for some reason they have lost faith in the current administration and are requesting new elections — against Conte, which lead to his resignation request. Mattarella and the parliamentary groups consulted with Conte, resulted in the formation of a new cabinet with Conte still Prime Minister in September of 2018.

Leadership determination

Giuseppe Conte recently commented he was honored that the rest of the European Union was inspired by Italy’s safety regulations and decided to implement them immediately. In fact, some countries, such as Belgium, did not wait any further after obvious increasing rates of COVID-19 and placed the entire country in a lockdown.

It feels like Conte’s comments comes with a note of sadness. What kind of (minuscule) appreciation must we have had in the past for Italy to be surprised that the EU is taking something we do seriously?

Recent statistics collected by Demos, showed Conte had an approval rating of 71%. A rating that had not been achieved in over 10 years. The latest highest rating had been measured for Matteo Renzi with 69%. The government prior to Conte’s, Paolo Gentiloni, reached only 50%.

These rating also showed that 94% of the Italians highly approved the measures taken by Conte to combat the virus. However, interestingly, the opinion of the European Union decreased to a 35% approval rating, where of the total 80% thought that Italy was handling the concerns better than any other EU country.

Social media is well known to be a powerful tool. To this point, appreciation of Conte can be observed on Instagram, for instance, where followers have dramatically increased from 450,000 to 750,000 followers in September 2019, and another 100,000 in only two weeks this March.

As following the debate with Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio since 2018, Conte has demonstrated a more determined willingness to coordinate. In 2018 right after Conte had been chosen, according to a monthly data collection by La Repubblica newspaper, Italians preferred right-winged Matteo Salvini, followed closely by Conte. But then matters changed. Just a couple months later, the ratings improved even further for Conte, although several Italians admitted they had never heard of their own Prime Minister before that point.

The New York Times in August of 2019 published the article, ‘How Giuseppe Conte of Italy went from Irrelevant to Irreplaceable,’ which opened with, “After 14 months of being ignored, mocked and yanked around by his deputies in Italy’s nationalist-populist government, the departing Giuseppe Conte, used his resignation speech […] for the leading role in government to come.” Thus, this appreciation for Conte was felt abroad as well. Since the media mentioned it so frequently, one wonders if even foreigners were also surprised of Conte’s leadership.

In the same speech mentioned above, dated 2018, Conte had stated that the mandate would be an opportunity to “…transform this moment of crisis into an opportunity.” Fast forward two years and it seems Conte has kept his words. He is taking action and for those who are skeptical of politics, as one can be, like myself, it is refreshing to see a determined leader — regardless of their political party — take action with pride.

Italians are more than pasta and pizza. We are more than populist groups who dislike immigrants. Hopefully also more than those irresponsible who are now wandering the streets even if they should not be. Conte has proven we can be a country of character and determination. We can have Conte to thank for it, at least in this moment of crisis, and see for the future.

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