Italy’s PM takes aim at migrants and austerity in maiden speech

Giuseppe Conte calls for redistribution of asylum seekers and review of Russian sanctions

Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte
Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Italy’s incoming prime minister used his maiden policy speech to demand a review of sanctions against Russia, in a departure from the stance of his European allies.

Giuseppe Conte also called for an “obligatory” redistribution of asylum seekers around the EU.

His government, made up of a coalition of far-right and Eurosceptic parties, was sworn in last Friday after almost three months of political turmoil that alarmed European officials and spooked financial markets.

Conte, a lawyer with little political and no governmental experience, was nominated by the far-right League leader, Matteo Salvini, and the head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Luigi di Maio – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers.

In his first speech to lawmakers since being sworn in, Conte reaffirmed several of the coalition’s key manifesto themes, including a tough line on migrants, rejection of economic austerity and conciliatory gestures towards Moscow.

On Russia, which faces EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Conte said: “We will promote a review of the sanctions system.”

He also told senators: “We want to reduce our public debt, but we want to do so with growth and not with austerity measures. We will strongly call for the Dublin regulation to be overhauled in order to obtain respect for a fair distribution of responsibilities and to achieve an automatic system of compulsory distribution of asylum seekers.”

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Under the Dublin rules, would-be asylum seekers must submit their applications in their country of arrival, meaning Italy has to deal with huge numbers.

The senate then voted to confirm Conte’s government, with 171 votes in favour, 117 against and 25 abstentions. A second parliamentary vote on Wednesday in the chamber of deputies, where the League and M5S also enjoy a majority, will officially confirm the new cabine

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