Playing the Referendum Game in Northern Italy

Three weeks after the controversial referendum that sanctioned Catalonia’s intention to secede from Spain, two of Italy’s wealthiest regions are going to the polls over similar issues related to autonomy. On Sunday, the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto will vote on a one-question query on whether to demand greater autonomy from Rome. The initiative comes from the Northern League, the right-leaning party that presides over both regional governments, and that since its foundation, in 1991, advocates fiscal federalism and greater autonomy, especially for the prosperous regions in the north of Italy. The action promoted by Roberto Maroni and Luca Zaia, respectively presidents of Lombardy and Veneto, rests primarily on economic reasons. According to the Northern League leaders, both regions resent the idea of not getting a proportional return on their taxes, compared to their contribution to GDP. Mr. Maroni, who supported the Catalan referendum, argues it is of the utmost urgency to reinvest local resources in Lombardy considering its role as “one of the economic engines of Europe”.

The regulatory framework for these referendums on autonomy is grounded on article 116 of the Italian Constitution. This norm sets special forms and conditions of autonomy for six regions due to their special statutes (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Valle d’Aosta), and allows the others to demand for similar provisions. According to the constitutional text, a greater autonomy may be conceded upon request of the region involved, and on the basis of an agreement between the Region and the State. Ultimately, the law has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament with an absolute majority of their members ...

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