In Italy, restive regionalism and sporadic separatist pushes are nothing new. But the secessionist spirit has never manifested itself in quite the way that a small group of activists is advocating in Sardinia. Angered by a system they say has squandered economic potential and disenfranchised the ordinary citizen, they want Rome to sell their island to the Swiss. "People laugh when we say we should go to become part of Switzerland. That's to be expected," said Andrea Caruso, co-founder of the Canton Marittimo (Maritime Canton) movement. While many have dismissed the proposal as a joke, its supporters insist they are serious. "The madness does not lie in putting forward this kind of suggestion," Caruso said. "The madness lies in how things are now." Sardinia, one of Italy's five autonomous regions, has always had a strong identity of its own. DH Lawrence, visiting in 1921, described it as "belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to anywhere". For a minority of Sardinians, independence remains the island's best chance for success. Caruso and Enrico Napoleone, the two 50-year-old school friends behind Canton Marittimo, disagree. "We think of Switzerland as a good teacher who could lead us on a path of excellence," said Caruso, a dentist from Cagliari. As the 27th canton, Sardinia, so goes the argument, would bring the Swiss some stunning coastline and untapped economic potential. Sardinia could retain considerable autonomy, while reaping the benefits of direct democracy, administrative efficiency and economic wealth. The fact that Switzerland is not in the EU is "definitely" a plus, say the activists. Like many Italians, they no longer believe in Brussels' ability to deliver the dream - both economic and cultural - they once thought it could. Beyond some specific local grievances, their frustrations with inefficient public spending, complex layers of decision-making and intimidating bureaucracy can be heard throughout the country. In the last quarter of last year, the unemployment rate in Sardinia was 18.1 per cent, the sixth highest in Italy. According to Istat, the national statistics body, more than half of households described their economic resources as "scarce" or "absolutely insufficient". Wearied by a procession of four prime ministers in less than 21/2 years, the backers of Canton Marittimo hold out little hope that the latest, the centre-left leader Matteo Renzi, will be able to do anything to fix the system. In Switzerland, the proposal has been met with cheerful bewilderment. An online poll of 4,000 people asking, in German, "should we accept Sardinia?" produced a 93 per cent yes vote.