ROME -- Italy's president swore in western Europe's first populist government Friday, featuring a mix of anti-establishment and right-wing ministers who have promised an "Italy first" agenda that has alarmed Europe's political establishment.
The continent's anti-European Union politicians cheered the birth of the new government coalition of the 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League party. Milan's stock market closed up 1.5 percent Friday after a last-minute deal Thursday averted the threat of an early election that could have turned into a referendum on whether Italy should ditch the shared euro currency.
President Sergio Mattarella, who negotiated through three months of political deadlock to finally find a workable government, presided over the ceremony in the gilded Quirinale Palace. Eighteen ministers -- five of them women -- took the oath of office, pledging to observe Italy's constitution and work exclusively in the interests of the nation.
The ministers feature a mix of 5-Star and League loyalists and a political neophyte in the form of Premier Giuseppe Conte, who was still teaching his law classes at the University of Florence up until Thursday.
The key economy ministry went to a mainstream economist, Giovanni Tria, who is close to the center-right Forza Italia party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Mattarella had vetoed the 5-Star-League's first proposed candidate for the post because of his anti-EU views.
The ceremony Friday afternoon capped a roller-coaster week of political and financial turmoil that saw stock markets around the world plunge and Italy's borrowing rates soar on the threat of a new election in Europe's third-largest economy.
It also came on the eve of the nation's Republic Day holiday, the day in 1946 when Italy abolished the monarchy and gave birth to the First Republic.
The improbably fast rise of the grassroots 5-Star Movement and its alliance with the right-wing, anti-immigrant League has been dubbed the birth of Italy's Third Republic, after Italy's political order was largely drubbed in the March 4 national vote.
"Look at this spectacle!" marveled 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio moments before the swearing-in ceremony. In a Facebook post featuring a photo of the 5-Star ministers, he said: "There are a lot of us, and we're ready to launch a government of change to improve the quality of life for all Italians."
After the ceremony, Conte headed to the premier's office to formally take the reins -- and a symbolic little bell -- from ex-Premier Paolo Gentiloni.
Conte's deputy premiers are his two more seasoned political masters: Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, head of the League. Di Maio, who pledged to give needy Italians a basic income, takes over as economic development minister, while Salvini heads the Interior Ministry, the key position to enforce his pledge to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants.
After the swearing-in, Salvini told reporters his first order of business would be to "reduce the arrivals and increase the expulsions" of migrants, as well as address the costs associated with their care.
"The immigration question is still hot, so I will ask all who are concerned with it how we can improve it," he said.
Yet migrant arrivals to Italy actually plunged in the past year under the center-left Democratic Party, which signed deals with Libya to beef up coastal patrols and prevent migrants from setting out in smugglers' boats across the Mediterranean Sea.
The Cabinet also includes defense attorney Giulia Bongiorno as the new minister for public administration. A center-right lawmaker, she is known for defending ex-Premier Giulio Andreotti against mafia collusion charges and for defending the ex-boyfriend of American student Amanda Knox against murder charges.
The changing of the guard sets the stage for obligatory confidence votes in Parliament next week. Between them, the League and 5-Stars have a thin parliamentary majority, and some right-wing lawmakers outside the government have vowed to abstain rather than vote against them.
A Section on 06/02/2018
Print Headline: Populists take helm of Italy's government