Just recently two of Italy’s richest northern regions voted for more autonomy, with more than 90 per cent of voters in Lombardy, home to Italy’s financial capital Milan, and the Veneto region around Venice, voting ‘Yes’ in the non-binding referendum.
Critics of the polls called this a stunt to bolster the right-wing Northern League before a general election next year. Meanwhile the central government in Rome says the polls are unnecessary, although they are permitted under the Italian constitution. Others have pointed out that five regions in Italy ‘already boast autonomous powers, including Sardinia and Sicily, as well as Veneto’s neighbour, Friuli-Venezia’.
This comes after a referendum in December 2016 where voters were asked whether they approved:
‘a constitutional law that amends the Italian Constitution to reform the composition and powers of the Parliament of Italy, as well as the division of powers between the State, the regions, and administrative entities’.
There have also been strong calls in Italy to follow the UK’s example and leave the EU.
President Roberto Maroni, leader of Lombardy, where voter turnout was about 40 per cent, has sought to distance the Italian vote from the situation in Spain. Maroni told Reuters:
‘We are not Catalonia … We remain inside the Italian nation with more autonomy while Catalonia wants to become the 29th state of the European Union. We, no. Not for now’.
One of the regions’ main complaints is that they send much more in taxes to Rome than they get back in public spending, and want to roughly halve their contribution. Lombardy, Mr Maroni says, annually pays out €54bn (£48bn; $64bn) more than it receives while for Veneto, where voter turnout was higher, at between 57 and 61 per cent, this figure is said to be about €15.5bn.
‘Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily’, Giuseppe Colonna, 84, told AFP news agency in Venice. But critics object to millions of euros being spent on referendums when all regions already have the constitutional right to negotiate directly with Rome. ‘Once you open up the issue of what the northern regions pay, then I expect a backlash in southern Italy’. Giovanni Orsina, professor of history at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University, told Reuters.
One answer to the issue of a divided Europe is a stronger and reformed EU. In the face of Putin’s support of Catalonian independence, a move that would only strengthen Russia’s standing in the geopolitical arena, the argument for a stronger EU put forward here by Zizek is crucial:
‘What we need to accommodate new local sovereignties (of Catalonia, of Scotland, and so on) is simply a stronger European Union — nation states should accustom themselves to more modest roles as intermediators between regional autonomies and a united Europe. In this way, Europe can avoid the debilitating conflicts between states and emerge as a much stronger international agent, on par with other big geopolitical blocks’.
Trump says the US gives too much to NATO. The Brexit movement built its narrative on a backlash against the millions spent/wasted by the UK on EU membership and many in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto have long argued that the wealthier north is subsidising the nation’s poorer south. In the age of austerity, seeing wealthier regions asking to break away from the poorer seems a natural progression. Right now in Europe we are seeing a form of wealthy ghettoisation.
From Scotland to Corsica, Kurdistan and the Faroe Islands, independence and isolation are motifs encouraged by free market capitalism. Everything, from food and sex to healthcare, transport and education, is conceived as a commodity. Wanting to break away from our shared problems is a symptom of an economy that passes on the blame because of the desire for economic sure-footing. Compare the winds of independence dancing across Europe to the struggle in Kurdistan and we see how, although multi-faceted, the idea of independence is growing in popularity as economic inequality worsens.
National pride is seen as an empowering tool for dealing with the feeling of being left behind. In Ukraine and across Eastern Europe this is a Soviet hangover and still shapes much of their political landscape. The political Right and identity politics are alive across Europe whilst the numbers of those wanting to unite and to deal with the crisis in Europe seems to be dwindling.
Europe’s referendums are a pantomime of no one wanting to deal with the situations created both on its perimeters and on its streets. Like with Brexit, like with Trump, we are seeing the wealthy try to fly the flag of empathy of the poor, whilst also walking away. Are some now starting to wake up from the ‘Dream of Europe‘?