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France

French press review 24 May 2018

media

Who is Giuseppe Conte, the man who has promised to defend Italy on the international stage? And what will French President Emmanuel Macrom and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin talk about when they meet today in St Petersburg?

Le Monde gives the front-page honours to Giuseppe Conte, the new man at the Italian helm.

Giuseppe is virtually unknown,  53 years old, a lawyer and is described by Le Monde as "smooth, discreet and elegant". He looks a bit like the Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman, in Kramer versus Kramer rather than Tootsie.

Giuseppe had to wait a while before getting presidential approval. There was a problem with his academic qualifications, New York university saying it had no trace of the man who claimed to have done a course there.

That wouldn't have been too bad. Italy's last education minister invented her social science degree. And that didn't stop the schools from opening on time.

Unfortunately, it turns out that quite a few of the prestigious institutions on Giuseppe Conte's CV have never seen the man's shadow: Duquesne University in Pittsburg, the University of Malta and the International Cultural Institute in Vienna all denied his claims. Worse, the European Union social justice group which Giuseppe claimed to have worked for as an expert advisor simply never existed.

Giuseppe's political mentor, Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, says it's all invention. Not the CV. Luigi means the press criticism of his man. Di Maio's coalition partner, Matteo Salvini of the very right-wing League, was less forgiving. He threatened to get off the bus entirely, until Di Maio offered another ministerial job - transport - for his half of the coalition.

Le Monde says the adventures of il professore Conte are a perfect illustration of the amateurish performance of Italy's new rulers. And the centrist paper wonders about the credibility of the little lawyer, not because of his cooked CV but because he has accepted the job of directing a political programme which is far from coherent and to which he never made the slightest contribution.

Giuseppe sounds like he could soon replace the sorely lamented Silvio "Il Cavaliere" Berlusconi in the hearts and minds of those of us who love and admire Italian politics.

Tough agenda for Macron in Russia

Right-wing paper Le Figaro looks at the two-day visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Russia. That starts today in St Petersburg and is likely to be dominated by arguments between the French and Russian leaders about Syria and Iran.

Since the two lads met last year in Louis XIV's palatial pile in Versailles, quite a lot has happened to trouble the shark-filled waters of international diplomacy.

There are the allegations of Russian electronic fiddling in European and US elections and the use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria, ardently supported by the Kremlin. Then somebody tried to poison a former Russian spy in London, French planes bombed Syrian army positions and Donald Trump pulled the US out of the seven-nation deal intended to control the Iranian nuclear programme. To say nothing of Moscow's not-very-diplomatic 2014 annexation of a chunk of Ukraine.

All of which should keep the two chaps and their translators busy for the next two days.

Macron will see these talks as further confirmation of his role as European lead dog and international mediator.

But he'll have his work cut out for him, warns Le Figaro. Especially since no one in the West is sure just how far Russian influence in Iran actually goes. And the Syrian conflict seems to be getting more complicated by the day, with Russia unable to transform its military victory into a political solution.

A diplomatic source assures Le Figaro that the French president will be "keeping his eyes open". Which seems both prudent and polite.

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