Amid Catalonia standoff, 2 Italy regions vote for more independence

By Sara Shayanian  |  Oct. 23, 2017 at 8:30 AM
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Oct. 23 (UPI) -- As Spain and Catalonia are entangled in a row over independence, millions of Italians in the populated regions of Lombardy and Veneto voted 'yes' this weekend in a referendum seeking greater freedom from Rome.

The vote gives the right-wing Northern League Party -- which rules the northern Italian regions -- a strong mandate to ask Rome for more control over issues like taxes, security, education and immigration.

Monday, Veneto and Lombardy leaders Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni hailed the 'yes' vote as a way to transform their regions.

"Within the framework of the [Italian] Constitution, we can now work on reforms," Zaia said.

The governors, who said they plan to begin negotiations with Rome in two weeks, said they seek control over 23 policy areas -- and want their regions to keep nine-tenths of tax revenues.

"We can now write a new page -- the regions that ask for more power will get it," Maroni said, calling the upcoming negotiations "the battle of the century."

Fifty-seven percent of voters in Veneto showed up at the polls Sunday, with 98 percent voting 'yes' on the issue. In Lombardy, that figure was 95 percent.

The Northern League was founded on the issue of devolution. However, the party has aligned itself with far-right parties in Europe and has advocated for a less centralized government, less immigration and less influence from the European Union.

"More than 5 million people voted for change today -- we all want less waste, fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, fewer obligations to the state and the European Union, more efficient, more jobs and more security," Northern League leader Matteo Salvini said.

The quest for greater autonomy in the two regions follows the Spanish independence crisis between Catalonia and Madrid, in which Spain's government is planning to revoke Catalan autonomy if its leader doesn't drop ideas for secession.

"Following the populist wave, now Europe has also to face a nationalists/regionalist wave, which somewhat overlaps with the populist one, and makes European integration even more difficult," Italian economist Lorenzo Codogno said. "The failure of Europe and nation-states to provide appropriate answers is a fertile ground for protest, anti-establishment movements, nationalism and regionalism."

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