October 18, 2017
Veneto and Lombardy to vote on autonomy
Next Sunday the Italian regions of Veneto and Lombardy will vote in consultative referendums on whether to initiate the process to increase their autonomy from the Italian state. While this is being billed by some foreign press as inspired by the Catalan referendum, the situations in Italy and Spain are very different. There is a qualitative difference between Catalan independence and the autonomy that the Italian regions seek and which Catalonia and other Spanish regions have enjoyed for nearly 40 years. There is also a difference in the constitutional basis for the referendums.
The referendums in Veneto and Lombardy are consultative, and have no minimum quorum for their validity. Their function is to give the local politicians confidence that their autonomy project has popular support before embarking on the legislative work. The legal basis for the referendums is Article 116 of the Italian constitution, which grants autonomy to five regions - Friuli Venezia Guilia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol), and Valle d'Aosta) and gives the rest of the Italian regions the possibility of attaining autonomy on the initiative of the interested region. The end result is an act of the Italian parliament, on the basis of negotiations between the Italian state and the region. This is analogous to the process described in Art 143 of the Spanish constitution and which divided Spain into seventeen autonomous communities in the early 1980s.
According to a short primer by Corriere della Sera, the regions of Veneto and Lombardy aim to acquire competences in twenty-three separate matters, including justice, international relations, civil protection, international trade, energy distribution, oversight of savings banks, environmental protection, and cultural heritage. With these competencies would come the direct management of a larger fraction of the public spending in the regions. At the core is the aim to reduce the difference between the taxes levied in each region and the amount of money spent by the government, which Lombardy estimates at €52bn and Veneto at €15bn annually.
According to the few polls that have been published, the referendum in Veneto is likely to see participation above 65% with 80% in favour of autonomy, while that of Lombardy would have lower participation with at least 75% of voters voting yes. Local firms are in general favourable to autonomy.