PARIS—Will a certain dream of Europe end with a bang or a whimper, with a calamity or a thousand paper cuts, with a grand dramatic moment or a tawdry local melodrama? That’s the question that has been swirling around in Europe ever since two populist, Euroskeptic parties triumphed in Italy’s national elections in March. The vote failed to produce a solid majority, plunging the country into weeks of confusing backroom negotiations that have made serious people despair and markets tremble. But this week, the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and anti-immigrant League party, which joined together in an unsettling marriage of convenience last week, announced they’d picked Giuseppe Conte, an unknown lawyer, law professor and expert in “de-bureaucratization,” to be prime minister. On Wednesday, after weeks of twists and turns, Italian president Sergio Mattarella gave Conte a mandate to form a government. The deal isn’t entirely sealed and the government must pass a confidence vote in Parliament, but that’s likely to happen since the two parties have a majority, however slim.
It wasn’t always clear Conte would make it. No sooner was he named than a scandal broke over whether he had inflated his CV, claiming to have studied at New York University, the Sorbonne, and Cambridge University, but lacked formal affiliations. After The New York Times spotted the NYU inconsistency, the Five-Star Movement later clarified that he’d gone to New York “to perfect his English language legal skills.” The leader of the Five-Star Movement, Luigi di Maio, decried the “unprecedented attacks” on Conte from the foreign and Italian mainstream media, and the attacks played to his anti-establishment base. It was yet another turn in an unfolding drama that’s at once tragedy and farce.