In Depth

Italy’s turn: wealthy regions vote for greater autonomy

Lombardy and Veneto’s presidents say they want ‘fairer’ tax distribution, not full independence

As the fall-out from Catalonia’s independence referendum continues, two of Italy’s wealthiest regions have voted for more say over how they are governed.

Who is voting for what?

Lombardy, which is home to Italy’s financial capital Milan, and the Veneto region around Venice held votes yesterday aimed at securing more control from Rome. Provisional results from the non-binding referendums suggest 90% of voters backed change.

Together the two regions account for about 30% of Italy’s total wealth. Their governors both belong to the Northern League, which has long argued that the north is subsidising the country’s poorer south.

According to the BBC, Lombardy contributes €54bn more in taxes a year than it receives while Veneto pays about €15.5bn more than it gets back. Both want to halve their contribution.

Although the Northern League once favoured secession, “the votes are aimed at securing further powers over spending, immigration, education and healthcare” and not full independence, says CNN.

Are there similarities with Catalonia?

 Lombardy President Roberto Maroni has sought to distance the Italian vote from the situation in Spain, telling Reuters that “we want to remain inside the Italian nation with more autonomy while Catalonia wants to become the 29th state of the European Union. We, no. Not for now.”

Veneto’s President Luca Zaia also dismissed comparisons with the vote in Catalonia as well as the Scottish independence referendum and Brexit vote, telling CNN: “The objectives are radically different. The referendum of Veneto does not question a break in either the supranational right nor with respect to international law, nor with respect to the Italian constitution.”

What has the reaction in Rome been?

While the Italian government has been at pains to take a less hardline approach than the Spanish government, critics in Rome have claimed the polls are a stunt to boost the prospect of the Northern League in next year’s general election. They say the public vote is a waste of millions of euros since all regions have the right to negotiate directly with Rome under the Italian constitution.

What will happen now?

While the process to secure greater regional autonomy is expected to be a long one, “the referendums could have a domino effect in the shorter term” says France 24. 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 devolved powers.

“The issue is likely to spread,” economist Lorenzo Codogno told the French news agency. “Eventually, it will require a generalised approach by the next government and a reform of the constitution.”

Five regions in Italy already boast autonomous powers, including Sardinia, Sicily and Veneto’s neighbour, Friuli-Venezia.

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