by Tyler Durden
The Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto
are holding referendums this Sunday
in a bid for more autonomy from Rome.
But has the crisis in Catalonia
put a damper on their aspirations?
Voters in Italy's two wealthiest northern regions of Lombardy and
Veneto are voting on Sunday (October 22, 2017) in referendums for
greater autonomy from Rome, in which a positive outcome could fan
regional tensions in Europe at a time when neighboring Spain is
cracking down to prevent Catalonia from breaking away.
Lombardy, which includes Milan, and Veneto, which houses the tourist
powerhouse Venice, are home to around a quarter of Italy's
population and account for 30% of Italy's economy, the Eurozone's
Unlike Catalonia, the
consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could
over time lead to powers being devolved from Rome.
Also unlike Catalonia,
which held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 despite it being
ruled unconstitutional, the Italian referendums are within the law.
Like Catalonia, however,
Lombardy and Veneto complain they pay far more in taxes than they
At its core, today's vote is about whether taxes collected in the
two wealthy regions should be used far more for the benefit of the
two regions, or diluted among Italy's other, poorer regions,
especially in the south. Lombardy sends €54 billion more in taxes to
Rome than it gets back in public spending.
Veneto's net contribution
is 15.5 billion. The two regions would like to roughly halve those
contributions - a concession the cash-strapped state, laboring under
a mountain of debt, can ill afford.
The two regions are both run by the once openly secessionist
Lega Nord, or Northern League
party, which hopes that the result will give it a mandate to
negotiate better financial deals from Rome.
The Northern League was
established in the 1990s to campaign for an independent state of "Padania",
stretching across Italy's north, from around Lombardy in the west to
Venice in the east.
It no longer campaigns
for secession but argues that taxes the north sends to Rome are
wasted by inefficient national bureaucracy.
While the twin referendums are non-binding, a resounding "yes" vote
would give the presidents of the neighboring regions more leverage
in negotiations to seek a greater share of tax revenue and to grab
responsibility from Rome.
The leaders want more
powers in areas such as security, immigration, education and the
Enthusiasm for today's vote will be critical as the level of turnout
will have a direct significance of the results:
in Veneto, it has to
pass 50% for the result to be considered valid.
There is no threshold in
Lombardy but low voter participation would weaken the region's hand
in any subsequent negotiations with the central government.
Even though secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy regions is
restricted to what has been dubbed "fringe groups" with little
following, nonetheless with both regions expected to vote in favor
of the principle of greater autonomy, analysts see the referendums
as reflecting the pressures that resulted in,
...according to AFP.
With dynamic economies and lower unemployment and welfare costs than
the Italian average, both regions are large net contributors to a
central state widely regarded as inefficient at best.
Public opinions covered both extremes of the spectrum:
"Lombardy and Veneto
have two efficient administrations and public services work
well, much better than in other Italian regions ... this is why
I think it is worth asking for greater autonomy," said Massimo
Piscetta, 49, who voted "Yes" in a small town outside Milan.
"Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily," echoed says
Giuseppe Colonna, an 84-year-old Venetian,
speaking to AFP.
"I am not going to vote because I think this referendum is
useless, expensive, ambiguous and unfair," countered Giovanni
speaking to Reuters and
expressing concern that the text of the Lombardy referendum did
not spell the areas where the region wanted to increase its
Veneto president Luca
Zaia says €30 billion Euros are wasted every year at a national
level and fiscal rebalancing will be a top priority for him and his
Lombardy counterpart Roberto Maroni if the votes go their
The two regional
presidents, both members of the far-right Northern League, plan to
ask for more powers over infrastructure, the environment, health and
education. They also want new ones relating to security issues and
immigration - steps which would require changes to the constitution.
Lombardy's leader, Roberto Maroni, says a strong victory for "Yes"
would give him a mandate to bargain hard in Rome.
"It's obvious that
the more negotiating power I have, the more money I can manage
to bring home," Maroni told Reuters in the run-up to the
Lombardy alone wants to
keep an additional 27 billion Euros ($32 billion) of its own taxes.
Maroni said he would be
happy if 34 percent of the region's 7.5 million voters cast ballots,
equal to the national turnout in a 2001 constitutional referendum.
Veneto's aspirations will
wither if voter turnout is below 50 percent plus one of the region's
3.5 million voters.
Still, political experts say neither region is likely to succeed in
wresting much money away from the central government without causing
problems for regions in Italy's poor south.
Giovanni Orsina, history professor at Rome's Luiss-Guido
Carli University, said a strong "Yes" vote could deepen the old
north-south divide which dates back to before Italian unification in
the 19th century.
"Once you open up the
issue of what the northern regions pay, then I expect a backlash
in southern Italy," he said.
European Parliament chief
Antonio Tajani on Sunday took care to distinguish between
Catalan's chaotic independence referendum, deemed illegal by Madrid,
and the votes in Italy.
"First of all these
two referendums are legitimate, that was not the case in
Catalonia," he told the Rome daily Il Messaggero.
"In Spain, it is not
about autonomy, but a proclamation of independence in defiance
of the rule of law and against the Spanish constitution."
He said Europe should
"fear" the spread of small nations:
"It is not by
degrading nationhood that we reinforce Europe.
Enzo Moavero Milanesi, law professor and former cabinet
told Deutsche Welle that while a
development and employment gap between the North and South remains,
the resentment of the North toward the South is no longer what it
was several decades ago.
"The main point is
the correct administration," says Milanesi of the move for
"These two regions
have been ruled by the Northern League for years and they are
well-managed. There's a good health system, low unemployment
So the idea is to
draw attention to how managed they are and how much better the
country could be managed."
Like Cristina Fusone,
he says the economic crisis in Europe has largely fueled the drive
for more regional autonomy in Italy and elsewhere.
"It has led some to
believe that more local autonomy might be a way to escape a
political decision far away," he said. "But the real question
is: What is local? Is a country local with respect to the EU? Is
it a region? A town?"
The question is hardly
Alongside the issue of
more regional autonomy in the Veneto referendum, another question
was supposed to address whether the city of Venice should separate
from the nearby mainland city of Mestre.
Venetians in favor of the
move say it would allow Venice to tackle the issue of mammoth cruise
ships and tourism causing environmental harm to their harbor. But
Italy's constitutional court has yet rule on whether the question of
municipal separation is legal.
Zaia excluded it from the ballot, to the bitter disappointment of
But it's a question that could well re-emerge - and not the only
"There are rumors
about other regions, such as Emilia-Romagna, wanting autonomy,"
says Milanesi. "So the mosaic is quite colorful."
Despite much less angst
about today's outcome, the referendums could have a domino effect as
a similar autonomy vote is being debated in Liguria, the region that
includes the Riviera coastline, and Emilia Romagna, another wealthy
industrial part of the country, is already trying to negotiate more
Economist Lorenzo Codogno says that while Italian unity is
not under threat,
"Sunday could mark
the opening of a Pandora's box."
"The issue is likely to spread, and eventually, it will require
a generalized approach by the next government and a reform of
And while the referendums
have been driven by the Northern League, which has long abandoned
the secessionist principles on which it was founded as observed
above, the Yes campaign is backed by most of the centre right
and sections of the centre left.
Milan's mayor Giuseppe
Sala, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, says greater
"is an idea shared by
everyone, not one that belongs to the League."
As AFP notes, the
referendum questions are framed differently in the two regions but
both ask voters to say Yes or No to,
"further forms and
special conditions of autonomy".
In a first for Italy,
voting in Lombardy will be conducted on computer tablets.
Acquiring them raised the
cost of the ballot but should ensure an early result after polls
close at 11 pm...