Sunday

26th May 2019

Italian regions demand autonomy from Rome

  • Voter turnout was around 58 percent in the Veneto region (Photo: Leon Barnard)

Two of Italy's wealthiest regions voted in favour of greater autonomy in a referendum that is likely to test Rome as Spain grapple's with a Catalan independence movement.

In the non-binding referendums on Sunday (22 October), voters in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto demanded more powers from the central government.

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Neither region is seeking to break away from Italy, but are instead asking for a greater say in the distribution of tax, in a move that is also likely to boost the far-right Northern League party ahead of general elections next year.

Presidents of both regions are members of the populist Northern League party, and say over 90 percent voted in favour of greater self-determination.

The combined wealth of the two regions hovers around 30 percent of Italy's economic output.

Lombardy pays out €54 billion in taxes every year for distribution to other parts of the country, while Veneto pays some €15.5 billion. These sums represent more than the regions receive back - in terms of services from national coffers in Rome.

Lombardy's president, Roberto Maroni, told Reuters news agency that unlike Catalonia, which wants to become a new nation state, his region intends to stay anchored within Italy.

"We remain inside the Italian nation with more autonomy, while Catalonia wants to become the 29th state of the European Union. Not us. Not for now," he said.

Veneto's president, Luca Zaia, made similar comments, noting that the vast majority of people in the region are demanding autonomy.

"What's won is the idea that we should be in charge of our own backyard," he said.

Aside from taxes, the two regions under the Northern League also want more say on immigration and security, and on other issues like infrastructure and education.

Just over 40 percent of voters went to vote in Lombardy, while some 58 percent turned up in Veneto.

Unlike in Spain, where Catalonia's independence vote on 1 October was declared illegal, Italy's constitution does not ban such polls.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani told the Rome daily Il Messaggero, in an interview, that the Lombardy and Veneto referendums were legitimate.

"These two referendums are legitimate - that was not the case in Catalonia," said Tajani, a centre-right Italian politician.

The two regions face a daunting task ahead in their plans to renegotiate powers with Rome, given that some of the demands require constitutional changes.

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