Autonomy Votes Held In Italy’s Rich Lombardy, Veneto Regions

In a ballot which could strengthen the anti-migrant Northern League ahead of national elections early next year, voters in two regions of Italy’s wealthy north take part in referendums Sunday to demand more autonomy from the state.

They have little in common with the recent Catalan independence vote in Spain which was marked by violent clashes and protests, claimed backers of the non-binding referendums in Lombardy and Veneto, whose regional capitals are Milan and Venice. Separatist and autonomy movements in Scotland and France among others were echoed by the Italian ballots.

“Compared to Catalonia, this is a legitimate referendum,” Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, which has long dropped its initial push for secession, said at a party event in Milan on Oct. 15. “The police will be at the polling stations to vote and to help those who vote. In Barcelona, unfortunately, things ended in bloodshed. We have chosen a longer, harder path but it’s a more serious one.”

To counter budget cuts ordered by Rome which he added harm schools, university research, and small businesses, voters could choose “a political system which costs less and spends better,” Salvini said.

The ballots would take place “fully respecting national unity, the constitution and the laws,” said ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right Forza Italia party backs a “Yes” vote. Berlusconi added that victory would mean lower taxes. Calles for similar referendums to be held in all Italian regions have been given by Berlusconi.

“The two referendums are about money because the regions want to have more control over tax revenues,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London. “They’re an opportunity for the League, which controls both regions and which was behind it from the start, to score ahead of the national elections.”

A virtual tie is being projected between the Democrats, the populist Five Star Movement and a possible center-right bloc by national opinion polls.

Piccoli said that Berlusconi would get a smaller boost “because he’s trying to jump on the bus at a late stage”. prospects for a possible center-right alliance before the national vote would be strengthened by a victory for the “Yes” camp, Piccoli added. The Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is divided on the referendums.

Victory would allow them to reduce the gap between tax levies sent to Rome and the value of state services they receive in return argues the referendums’ Northern League promoters Roberto Maroni, president of the Lombardy region, and Luca Zaia, head of the Veneto authority. With Veneto third at 15.5 billion euros, the Lombardy region estimates the shortfall at 54 billion euros ($64 billion), which it says is the highest in Italy.

So that they have more clout to press for further autonomy if they win, the Northern League governors are seeking a strong turnout. Still, the state will not be giving up any powers soon even if the League wins the referendums.

“It’s hard to see any proceedings starting between now and the election, there isn’t much time left, and there isn’t much desire for them in Rome,” said Piccoli

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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