Autonomy wave hits Italy, as two richest regions claim overwhelming victories in self-determination referendums

Lombardy and Veneto are not seeking independence, but want to seize some tax-raising powers from Rome

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 8:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 9:12pm

Two of Italy’s wealthiest regions were drawing up plans Monday to claw back power and money from Rome after a victory for autonomy campaigners that could deepen divisions in Europe.

Over 95 per cent of voters who flocked to the polls in the Veneto and Lombardy regions, home to Venice and Milan, supported a mandate to negotiate a better deal with the Italian capital.

Turnout was higher than expected and the results should not be underestimated in the context of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence, analysts warned.

Voter participation stood at 57 per cent in Veneto and nearly 39 per cent in Lombardy.

Both regions are run by the Northern League (LN) party, which was once openly secessionist but has lately shifted its focus to run on an anti-euro ticket in the hope of expanding its influence into the south.

The leaders of the two regions, which contribute up to 30 per cent of Italy’s GDP, will now embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome.

Once the terms are agreed, they will need a green light from parliament in a process that could take up to a year.

Veneto leader Luca Zaia said the regional council, which was meeting Monday, was aiming to get Rome to agree it could keep 90 per cent of taxes, rather than handing them over to a capital it has long accused of waste.

“More than five million people voted for change. We all want less waste, fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, fewer state and EU constraints, more efficiency, more employment and more security,” said LN head Matteo Salvini.

He said the party was committed to winning greater autonomy for all regions up and down the country.

Secessionist sentiment in Veneto and Lombardy is restricted to fringe groups but analysts see the autonomy drive as reflecting the same cocktail of issues and pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

“Lombardy is not Catalonia, nor indeed is the Veneto, but the revival of the autonomist flame here takes place in a Europe which tends towards fragmentation and closing in on itself,” Italian political commentator Stefano Folli said.

Economist Lorenzo Codogno, a former senior official in the finance ministry, said the ‘Yes’ victory would likely “add to the sense of uneasiness in Europe”.

“Following the populist wave, now Europe has also to face a nationalist/regionalist wave, which somewhat overlaps with the populist one, and makes European integration even more difficult,” he added.

And Folli evoked the fear in Italy that the results, which “captured a growing divide between the North and South”, could aggravate deeply rooted antipathies that predate the country’s unification in the 19th century.