The Parmesan cheese manufacturers' association was among the first to congratulate the wrong man as Italy's new agriculture minister. Photograph: Marina Spirronetti/Alamy
Italy's new, "technocratic" government of highly qualified bankers, admirals and professors was missing a minister today after he vanished into a fog of misunderstanding.
Earlier this week, agriculture expert Francesco Braga, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, was surprised, if flattered, to be told from Rome that he had been named junior agriculture minister in the new Italian administration. He had, after all, spent the last 28 years living outside his native land.
Whatever doubts the professor may have had were swept away in what he called an "avalanche of congratulations". Among the first to express delight was the Parmesan cheese manufacturers' association.
Back in Rome, the agriculture minister, Mario Catania, declared in irreproachably technocratic fashion that his new deputy would "bring value added". He admitted that he had not actually spoken to the distinguished Italo-Canadian professor, but added: "I know him by reputation."
All of which must have been pretty confusing for Altero Matteoli, the infrastructure minister in Italy's last government, who had warmly recommended for a post in the new government one Franco Braga, also a professor, but of construction engineering at Rome's Sapienza University. "To tell the truth," Matteoli was quoted as saying in the daily Corriere della Sera: "I recommended him for infrastructure, but they put him in agriculture."
Only they – whoever they were – found a professor with a similar name who would have known something about farming. Which perhaps explains why Franco Braga, an expert on anti-seismic building techniques, was refusing either to answer his telephone, or be sworn in to a job for which he is wholly unqualified.
A spokesperson for the prime minister's office said: "Everything's fine. He'll take the oath. In a few days."