Italy's regions back greater autonomy
Rome is ready for reforms but not on tax compromises
28 October, 2017
Two of Italy's wealthiest northern regions last Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy, but analysts believe the enthusiastic results from the two referenda do not represent a threat to the unity of Italy in the short term. The Veneto regional council said 98.1% of people voted yes last Sunday. The turnout was 57.2% after 2,328,949 took part. The regional government in Lombardy announced 95% yes votes as 3m people have taken part in the referendum there with turnout of around 39%.
Veneto and Lombardy governors Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni, which are leading members of the anti-migrant, Eurosceptic Northern League party said they are ready for talks with the central government for reforms but within the framework of the Constitution. Which makes Italian referenda different from the disputed Catalan vote. While not legally binding they were organized legally.
League leader Matteo Salvini told a press conference that a victory of the yes vote was a "lesson in democracy" for Italy and Europe. Salvini hopes that autonomy talks would also include Emilia-Romagna and Puglia regions. Their governors, both members of the ruling Democratic Party, also demand greater autonomy for their regions.
But negotiations with Rome are not expected to go smoothly. Luca Zaia insists that Veneto will ask for autonomy on "all 23" policy areas that can be transferred to regions and for "nine-tenth of tax" revenues. Italy’s constitution however does not allow regional fiscal autonomy. Lombardy, the region of financial hub Milan, accounts for about 20% of Italy’s economy, which is the euro zone’s third largest. Veneto, which includes the tourist magnet Venice, accounts for 10%. So any redistribution of tax revenues could have a negative impact on much poorer regions in the south.
As the two regional presidents are members of the far-right Northern League, they also want new powers relating to security issues and immigration, steps which would require changes to the constitution.
Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni said last week that he is opened for debate and "ready to make steps forward" but warned that Italy does not need more social lacerations.
"Although not threatening the unity of the State, this process risks opening a Pandora's box and setting in motion widespread centrifugal forces within Italy," economist Lorenzo Codogno told Italian media. A former senior official in the finance ministry, Codogno expects referenda to feed into an ongoing discussion on constitutional reform with the likely outcome a much more federalised country on the model of Germany, rather than disintegration.