"It Could Open A Pandora's Box": Italy's 2 Richest Regions Are Voting In Historic Autonomy Referendums

Tyler Durden's picture

Voters in Italy's two wealthiest northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are voting on Sunday in referendums for greater autonomy from Rome, in which a positive outcome could fan regional tensions in Europe at a time when neighboring Spain is cracking down to prevent Catalonia from breaking away.

Lombardy, which includes Milan, and Veneto, which houses the tourist powerhouse Venice, are home to around a quarter of Italy's population and account for 30% of Italy's economy, the Eurozone's third largest. Unlike Catalonia, the consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could over time lead to powers being devolved from Rome. Also unlike Catalonia, which held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 despite it being ruled unconstitutional, the Italian referendums are within the law. Like Catalonia, however, Lombardy and Veneto complain they pay far more in taxes than they receive.

At its core, today's vote is about whether taxes collected in the two wealthy regions should be used far more for the benefit of the two regions, or diluted among Italy's other, poorer regions, especially in the south. Lombardy sends €54 billion more in taxes to Rome than it gets back in public spending. Veneto's net contribution is 15.5 billion. The two regions would like to roughly halve those contributions - a concession the cash-strapped state, labouring under a mountain of debt, can ill afford.

The two regions are both run by the once openly secessionist Lega Nord, or Northern League party, which hopes that the result will give it a mandate to negotiate better financial deals from Rome. The Northern League was established in the 1990s to campaign for an independent state of “Padania”, stretching across Italy’s north, from around Lombardy in the west to Venice in the east. It no longer campaigns for secession but argues that taxes the north sends to Rome are wasted by inefficient national bureaucracy.

While the twin referendums are non-binding, a resounding "yes" vote would give the presidents of the neighboring regions more leverage in negotiations to seek a greater share of tax revenue and to grab responsibility from Rome. The leaders want more powers in areas such as security, immigration, education and the environment.

Enthusiasm for today's vote will be critical as the level of turnout will have a direct significance of the results: in Veneto, it has to pass 50% for the result to be considered valid. There is no threshold in Lombardy but low voter participation would weaken the region's hand in any subsequent negotiations with the central government.

* * *

Even though secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy regions is restricted to what has been dubbed "fringe groups" with little following, nonetheless with both regions expected to vote in favour of the principle of greater autonomy, analysts see the referendums as reflecting the pressures that resulted in Scotland's narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain's decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis according to AFP.

With dynamic economies and lower unemployment and welfare costs than the Italian average, both regions are large net contributors to a central state widely regarded as inefficient at best.

Public opinions covered both extremes of the spectrum:  

“Lombardy and Veneto have two efficient administrations and public services work well, much better than in other Italian regions ... this is why I think it is worth asking for greater autonomy,” said Massimo Piscetta, 49, who voted “Yes” in a small town outside Milan.

"Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily," echoed says Giuseppe Colonna, an 84-year-old Venetian, speaking to AFP.

“I am not going to vote because I think this referendum is useless, expensive, ambiguous and unfair,” countered Giovanni Casolo, 54, speaking to Reuters and expressing concern that the text of the Lombardy referendum did not spell the areas where the region wanted to increase its autonomy.

Veneto president Luca Zaia says €30 billion euros are wasted every year at a national level and fiscal rebalancing will be a top priority for him and his Lombardy counterpart Roberto Maroni if the votes go their way.  The two regional presidents, both members of the far-right Northern League, plan to ask for more powers over infrastructure, the environment, health and education. They also want new ones relating to security issues and immigration -- steps which would require changes to the constitution.

Lombardy’s leader, Roberto Maroni, says a strong victory for “Yes” would give him a mandate to bargain hard in Rome. “It’s obvious that the more negotiating power I have, the more money I can manage to bring home,” Maroni told Reuters in the run-up to the referendum. Lombardy alone wants to keep an additional 27 billion euros ($32 billion) of its own taxes.  Maroni said he would be happy if 34 percent of the region's 7.5 million voters cast ballots, equal to the national turnout in a 2001 constitutional referendum. Veneto's aspirations will wither if voter turnout is below 50 percent plus one of the region's 3.5 million voters.

Still, political experts say neither region is likely to succeed in wresting much money away from the central government without causing problems for regions in Italy’s poor south.

Giovanni Orsina, history professor at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University, said a strong “Yes” vote could deepen the old north-south divide which dates back to before Italian unification in the 19th century.


“Once you open up the issue of what the northern regions pay, then I expect a backlash in southern Italy,” he said.

European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani on Sunday took care to distinguish between Catalan's chaotic independence referendum, deemed illegal by Madrid, and the votes in Italy. "First of all these two referendums are legitimate, that was not the case in Catalonia," he told the Rome daily Il Messaggero. "In Spain, it is not about autonomy, but a proclamation of independence in defiance of the rule of law and against the Spanish constitution." He said Europe should "fear" the spread of small nations: "It is not by degrading nationhood that we reinforce Europe.

* * *

Italy's "North-South divide"

Enzo Moavero Milanesi, law professor and former cabinet minister, told Deutsche Welle that while a development and employment gap between the North and South remains, the resentment of the North toward the South is no longer what it was several decades ago. "The main point is the correct administration," says Milanesi of the move for autonomy. "These two regions have been ruled by the Northern League for years and they are well-managed. There's a good health system, low unemployment rate; so the idea is to draw attention to how managed they are and how much better the country could be managed."

Like Fusone, he says the economic crisis in Europe has largely fueled the drive for more regional autonomy in Italy and elsewhere. "It has led some to believe that more local autonomy might be a way to escape a political decision far away," he said. "But the real question is: What is local? Is a country local with respect to the EU? Is it a region? A town?"

The question is hardly rhetorical. Alongside the issue of more regional autonomy in the Veneto referendum, another question was supposed to address whether the city of Venice should separate from the nearby mainland city of Mestre. Venetians in favor of the move say it would allow Venice to tackle the issue of mammoth cruise ships and tourism causing environmental harm to their harbor. But Italy's constitutional court has yet rule on whether the question of municipal separation is legal. Consequently, Governor Zaia excluded it from the ballot, to the bitter disappointment of many.

But it's a question that could well re-emerge — and not the only one. "There are rumors about other regions, such as Emilia-Romagna, wanting autonomy," says Milanesi. "So the mosaic is quite colorful."

* * *

Despite much less angst about today's outcome, the referendums could have a domino effect as a similar autonomy vote is being debated in Liguria, the region that includes the Riviera coastline, and Emilia Romagna, another wealthy industrial part of the country, is already trying to negotiate more devolved powers.

Economist Lorenzo Codogno says that while Italian unity is not under threat, "Sunday could mark the opening of a Pandora's box."

"The issue is likely to spread, and eventually, it will require a generalised approach by the next government and a reform of the constitution."

And while the referendums have been driven by the Northern League, which has long abandoned the secessionist principles on which it was founded as observed above, the Yes campaign is backed by most of the centre right and sections of the centre left. Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, says greater self-rule "is an idea shared by everyone, not one that belongs to the League."

As AFP notes, the referendum questions are framed differently in the two regions but both ask voters to say Yes or No to "further forms and special conditions of autonomy".

In a first for Italy, voting in Lombardy will be conducted on computer tablets. Acquiring them raised the cost of the ballot but should ensure an early result after polls close at 11 pm.

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Five Star's picture

Two thirds of Italian's support Euro-skeptic parties in the upcoming general election


peddling-fiction's picture

Also the richest (North) area of Italy, like Catalonia is to Spain.

Escrava Isaura's picture

"Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily," echoed says Giuseppe Colonna, an 84-year-old Venetian

Well, if that was said in the US, Giuseppe would be named a socialist, a commie, a lefty, and all the other good stuff about his mother.  


AlaricBalth's picture

Humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards others of their kind. For thousands of years civilization was based on tribes. A tribe was "a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect...". In our current highly technical and connected world, the people's sense of culture and belonging is being diminished. The need to unwind these "united" countries is an unintended consequence of the digital age.

The social experiment of assimilation is failing because human nature is a stronger force than legislation or government regulation.

peddling-fiction's picture

Babylon was the first large inter tribal experiment of its kind, this time around, after the flood.

It did not end well.

two hoots's picture

More real signs that those with are tired of dragging along the needy.  A real problem for globalization and for politicians around the world who are in a quandry of what to do...force of course....all they know.   Trump is leaning in the same direction and hopefully taking a slow but deliberate path to stop the blood suckers and put them on a path to productivity.    Dems from needy areas are fighting to save their seats and will yell whatever it takes to draw attention.   Let them yell and then fade away.

auricle's picture

These are votes from the productive class saying socialism sucks. It will only intensify from here. 

anarchitect's picture

"Like Catalonia, however, Lombardy and Veneto complain they pay far more in taxes than they receive."

Catalonia is infested with leftists (and, more broadly, statists), and Lombardy and Veneto undoubtedly have their share as well.

It is ironic that they believe their complaint to be reasonable at the regional level but would never countenance it at the individual level.

Enceladus's picture

If they were statists wouldn't they be glued to Madrid ? 

Bulgars's picture

How stupid is ZH sending their propaganda... In Italy referendums have NO power. It is NOT historic vote as it has happened many times before.

earleflorida's picture

the camels nose under the tent, kinda thingy

wait for it?

anarchitect's picture

Not necessarily.  They don't have much chance of running the Spanish state, but many of them would be happy running a Catalonian one.

stacking12321's picture

Very true.

But generally, when bigger government is broken up into smaller pieces, it tends to be less corrupt, more local, more accountable, less draconian.

Escrava Isaura's picture

AlaricBalth: Humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards others of their kind. 

Inteligency, industrialization, and capitalism changed that.

Now humanity has a huge problem with no way out in their hands.


TBT or not TBT's picture

There is a solution for communism though. You should be familiar with it,
Your kind having employed it by the tens of millions on your fellow humans during the last century.

Endgame Napoleon's picture

Factional tribes were a fear of the American Founders for a reason. A local population can feel like the actions of big government are irrelevant or even detrimental to their interests without being motivated by notions of bloodlines and/or tribal loyalties. Economic and other conditions vary in different geographical locations.

Escrava Isaura's picture

Endgame Napoleon: Factional tribes were a fear of the American Founders…..


Because America is supposed to be a fanatic nation as well as an empire. That’s how our fouding fathers want America to be.

Don’t take my word for it:

Manisfest Destiny

1787 Constitution Covention


GeorgeHayduke's picture

They could not allow tribes to exist outside of their wage slave system because people would abandon it. No escape from being under their thumb is allowed.

Omen IV's picture

not just that - the best and the brightest want to minimize their risk - usually IQ and strong Cuture go hand in hand  - Culture is a product of people's customs and short hand for "trust" - - as the growth economics diminish and widely known - people recognize they are better off with a "span of control" that is shorter and more in line with those they can immediately trust

The UE proved to be a Klepto Experiment - now the Kleptos want to introduce the animals from Africa -  because with minimal welfare they can control their vote and minimize the indigenous people (same in USA) - but ALL know there is no contribution to advancing civilization from the animals

so the retreat to ones own ....everywhere

two hoots's picture

Carl Jung thinks we bring ages of stuff with us at birth and store it in our collective conscious.  Would not be surprised to find that "gravitating towards their own kind" is not closely related to  innateness.  Not sure how that kind of stuff can be transfered in a biological way but who am I to argue with Jung.  Agree totally that homogeneity cannot be legislated or  even be peacefully accepted? 

If you are 100% free and then you chose to tolerate something, you have diminished your freedom by the tolerant amount. 

TBT or not TBT's picture

Carl Jung, who is dead, made shit up.

Bigly's picture

Anyone who has traveled through Italy knows that northern italians have more in common with their northern border countries than the southern italians (who align more closely with algeria and greece)

ZD1's picture

Socialists, Commies, and leftists need to stop stealing from others by their onerous taxes and they and their mothers wouldn't called names! 

Escrava Isaura's picture

Conservative simpletonw view and disregard of history is astoudishing.

Give you an example of “stealing form others’:

Anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: he shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.




ZD1's picture

Escrava the Brazilian commie has gobbled her daily dose of red pills and is delusional again. 


peddling-fiction's picture

"She" is so WRONG it is not funny.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

You gotta remember that history in the US begins after the government's mercenaries killed off the people already living here and stole their land so we could start the capitalist paradise where nothing is stolen. US schools, morons who believe their own bullshit, you know, being stupid and righteous about it is a right in America.

ZD1's picture

That sounds more like Escrava's Brazil where big government put the people already living there on their bankrupt socialist plantation where everything is stolen. 

Escrava must be sharing her red pills with George. 


GeorgeHayduke's picture

Socialist, commie, big government...gee, I must be at ZeroesHedge where all the usual buzz words must be used every other sentence or the other zeroes won't know what you're talking about.

Whew, time to go hang out with my twelve year old son and his buddies. Much higher intellectual content than the zeroes can offer.

ZD1's picture

Triggered snowflakes need to retreat to their government sanctioned safe places. 

TBT or not TBT's picture

Democrats did indeed engage in wholesale ethnic cleansing. Jackson. He’s on the $20 bill. Up until 5 minutes ago hero of the Democrat Party. Harriet Tubman, gun toting black Republican woman, will replace Jackson.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

It wouldn't be good for states like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and others as they get more back than they put in.

ZD1's picture

It wouldn't be good for deep blue states like Illinois, New York and Commiefornia that have billions in unfunded liabilities along with the most welfare cases and illegals. 



GeorgeHayduke's picture

Maybe not, but those states would still maintain a high level of economic wealth even if this whole crap pile fell apart. Geographic advantage is valid regardless of ideological desires.

ZD1's picture

Companies are fleeing high tax states like Commiefornia which has geographical liabilities like devastating earthquakes, drought and fires.  

TBT or not TBT's picture

Smug Syndrome among the coastal elites.

Kayman's picture

Es Crapa

You got a little tedious, a long, long time ago.

Semi-employed White Guy's picture

The Bonnanos, Colombos, Gambinos, Genoveses, Luccheses have a different view and would like very much your tax Lira spent in Sicily.

harrybrown's picture

I smell the stench of Zionist interference in all these Breakaway states / regions.
just look at Catalonia... they still want to be part of EU & to "join NATO"....

That sould should ring the alarm bells for everyone as to who's teh driving force behind all this.

Oh wait...& its always the richest regions who want away.

Death to The Zionist Money Changers

Bollockinell's picture

What, so Rajoy doesn't want to remain in the EU and be a part of NATO?
Without Catalonia we are led to believe Spain cannot meet its debts which rather defeats your argument, or am I missing something?

Pernicious Gold Phallusy's picture

The Italian public doesn't like the maritime invasion forced on them by Angela's clown troupe.

Mimir's picture

On the contrary, they just love Merkel's open arms policy because emigrants arriving by sea from the South, move North as quickly they can to reach Germany.

Saucy-Jack's picture

People are sick and tired of centrally planned living and governing.

Power to the people!

Son of Captain Nemo's picture

God "We The People" HOPE SO!...

moonstears's picture

Waitaminute, does this have anything to do with that fatass Hollywood casting couch guy? If not, must not be important.

Endgame Napoleon's picture

Okay then,




.....for some news-entertainment variety.

house biscuit's picture

Problem, reaction, solution.....

Kayman's picture

I guess Tesla will have better luck transferring American technology to China riding along a a big, fat Chinese subsidy.