Italy: Regional Governments Try to Distance Rome With Referendum

3 MINS READOct 3, 2017 | 18:08 GMT
Forecast Update

Stratfor is closely following the disintegration of the European Union. As the third largest country in the eurozone, Italy is an integral part of that narrative. Though Italy's regional referendums are mostly about domestic divides, the rise of nationalist and regionalist sentiments across Europe is a key trend to watch when forecasting the future of the bloc.

As the skies darken over Europe's future, Italian citizens are rallying for more autonomy. Two northern Italian regions, Lombardy and Veneto, will hold a non-binding referendum Oct. 22, hoping to obtain additional powers. However, this is not an independence movement. Regional political parties negotiated with the central government at the beginning of the year to approve the referendum, which will simply ask citizens of the regions whether they want local governments to begin the constitutional procedure for gaining more autonomy.

The Italian constitution allows regional governments to negotiate with the central state for more powers. But before beginning negotiations, regional governments decided to hold a non-binding vote to increase their negotiation power by showing they have the support of their citizens. 

The political party that holds power in both regions, the Northern League, has in the past argued in favor of independence for northern Italy. In the 1990s, the party supported a proposal to create an independent country, called "Padania" (the region along the Po valley). However, the regional governments are both coalition governments that include the center-right Forza Italia party, which does not back independence. And the Northern League itself no longer advocates the independence of northern Italy.

Since Matteo Salvini took over as party leader, the Northern League has attempted to become an Italian nationalist party appealing to voters across the country rather than just to voters in the north. Salvini still criticizes the central government in Rome, but his main foe these days is the European Union. The Northern League's derives its inspiration more from France's National Front than from separatist movements such as in Catalonia. Salvini, commenting about the Catalan referendum in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa, said that the vote in Catalonia was illegal and has little resemblance to the Northern League's requests for more autonomy. The autonomy that the regional governments are demanding is not what the Catalan government is demanding but similar to other Italian regions with a degree of autonomy, such as Sicily or Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol.

Salvini made clear that the regional governments of Lombardy and Veneto are not pursuing any unilateral moves and that they want to reach an agreement with Italy's central government. According to Salvini, the Northern League wants a federal system in which regions have more autonomy on issues such as taxes and the educational system.

The referendum in Lombardy and Veneto is likely to be successful, and the two regional governments will use this popular support to start negotiations with the central state. If the Italian government refuses to grant more autonomy to the two regions, conflict between the central state and the regions would ensue, and the referendum would bolster the regional governments position in that conflict.

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