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ROME (AP) — Italy’s premier-designate Giuseppe Conte spent his first day on the job Thursday finalizing his proposed Cabinet list as European officials vowed to judge deeds, not words, from a euroskeptic and populist Italy in their ranks.

Conte, a law professor and political unknown, received a mandate from President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday to try to form a government after the 5-Star Movement and anti-immigrant League pitched him as their candidate for premier following two months of political deadlock.

Conte, 53, spent much of his first day in consultations with political leaders, including the two populists backing him and the many skeptical of his would-be government’s plans.

In a sign of the sort of change he wants to bring, Conte told reporters he would end the day by meeting with Italian savers who lost money when the small banks where they had stored their life savings failed.

“These people have the right to be listened to by the institutions. They are asking for respect of their rights and that their savings be protected,” Conte said. “This protection will be one of the principal commitments of this government.”

Conte said that he would meet Friday with the Bank of Italy’s president, and then spend the rest of the day working on the Cabinet to present to Mattarella. He gave no indication of when that might be.

Speculation swirled over his proposed Cabinet list, and whether it would be his choice or that of the two party leaders who put him in charge: 5-Star Leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini.

Both offered assurances after their meetings with Conte that he was in charge of choosing ministers, along with Mattarella.

Conte said the ministers that he proposes “will be political, just as yours truly.”

Most controversial is their pick for economy minister, Paolo Savona, an 81-year-old former industry minister who has had held a series of positions in government, industry and banking. He is also known for his euroskeptic views, which will surely be a concern of Mattarella’s who will want to ensure that any minister will respect Italy’s commitments with its partners.

Salvini doubled down in insisting on his pick for economy minister, saying Italians should cheer that someone will finally represent their interests in Brussels while acknowledging Savona’s “past doubts” about the euro.

Political analyst Stefano Folli said that how they resolve the Savona question “will make clear the tone of the government.”

“Above all, it will be clear if it has the fuel to take off and maintain altitude for at least a few months,” Folli wrote in La Repubblica.

Di Maio again repeated that the government intends to fulfill its full five-year mandate.

After his meeting with Conte, Maurizio Martina of the Democratic Party, which badly lost the March elections and has vowed to stay in the opposition, continued to express doubt about the proposed populist government, calling the two leaders “inconsistent” and their program “superficial.”

He warned them: “Don’t joke with the sacrifices of Italians in these last years, made by families, companies and workers to bring the country out of the worst crisis since the war.”

Giorgia Meloni, the head of the small, far-right Fratelli d’Italia party that was part of a right-wing bloc that ran in the election together with the League, said they would support the incoming government on flat tax, immigration curbs and security matters, but would otherwise vote on the merits of each proposal. She expressed doubt about the basic income proposal from the 5-Star Movement.

Beatrice Lorenzin, former health minister and head of a small centrist party, urged the incoming health minister to make decisions based on science and evidence — a reference to the 5-Star pledge to undo the expanded obligatory vaccination program that was a hallmark of Lorenzin’s tenure and passed during a deadly measles outbreak.

In Brussels, meanwhile, finance ministers gathering for a Eurogroup meeting expressed relief at Conte’s pledge to respect Italy’s European commitments during comments after being tapped Wednesday evening.

“We all took positive note of the first declarations of the president of the Italian council (of ministers) who committed to respect the European rules,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said. “It is a positive signal and we want to work constructively with Italy, and we will judge it on its actions.”

As recently as last week, Le Maire had warned that the eurozone’s financial stability could be threatened if a populist government blows Italy’s deficit commitments.

The 5-Star-League government program calls for a host of budget-busting measures, with little detail on financing, including a basic income for needy Italians and a two-tier flat tax that is expected to add to Italy’s debt load, already Europe’s heaviest after Greece.

Emerging from Mattarella’s office Wednesday, Conte vowed to implement the program, saying Italians were waiting for a “government of change” and that he couldn’t wait to get to work to deliver it.

But he also sought to reassure allies and markets that Italy would respect its European and international obligations, particularly as the EU begins budget negotiations.

“Deeds count more than words,” responded Margaritis Schinas, spokesman of the European Commission, when asked at the daily briefing about Conte’s assurances.


Colleen Barry reported from Milan.