Italians in the Veneto and Lombardy have just voted in non-binding referenda for more autonomy. Giorgio Cremaschi argues they are a fig leaf for a hollowing out of democracy and will drive privatisation.
The same political forces that are opposing each other nationally for the government of the country and who clash over the new electoral law unanimously support the referenda for autonomy to be held in Lombardy and Veneto on October 22nd.
So even though they are presented as such, it is not true that the two consultations are purely a thing of the Lega Nord. In Lombardy, the referendum has been approved by all centre-right parties and the Five Star Movement. The Democratic Party (PD), initially opposed, then changed its position: Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Sala di Milano, the future candidate in the region and now mayor of Bergamo, and many others have pronounced in favour.
In Veneto, the PD abstained on the referendum, then signalled its backing; all the other political groups have the same position as their Lombard counterparts. In summary, in Lombardy and Veneto, former PMs Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi, the Five Star’s Luigi Di Maio and even Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, at least through their local leaders, agree with referenda of Lega leader Matteo Salvini, and Lega governors of Lombardy and Veneto, Roberto Maroni and Luca Zaia. In these regions there is total unity. And it is an idea that the PD now wants to extend in its heartlands of Emilia Romagna and Puglia.
In Lombardy and Veneto, the only strongly opposing voices have come from the left which is not represented in the regional parliaments, the social movements, the small unions, such as USB, voices that are too weak to break the monotony of the referenda campaigns, where you only hear the Yes arguments, backed up with substantial funding from regional institutions.
But if all the main political groups in the two regions are in agreement, why bother with these referenda? To this question the regional presidents offer a lazy response: the vote is to give the people a say. But is this true? Absolutely not.
The two referenda questions are not precise, but this is what is needed if a popular pronouncement can really decide and count. Think about Italy’s recent constitutional referendum, that in the UK on Brexit, in Greece on the Troika memorandum, that of independence in Catalonia?
They had clear questions that required clear answers; and in fact the governments then made a lot of effort to respond to the popular responses, and sometimes even rejected them. The Lombardy-Veneto votes couldn’t be further removed from such popular votes. And they run no such risk of having to deal with the consequences for they do not ask for anything. For those Italian political forces accustomed to betraying their programs a minute after making them, this vote is perfect. Everyone is engaged without any real commitment.
The Veneto question is simple: Do you want more autonomy? Lombardy, evidently as a result of some more subtle legal advice, mentions respect for the national unity of the Constitution and explicitly calls for greater resources. Which? Herein lies the con.
Italy has the fiscal compact – something Renzi and Salvini say they want to change – which is directly inserted into the Constitution. The modification of Article 81 is a devastating act against our democracy, passed almost unanimously by the previous Italian parliament. Along with the constitutionalisation of austerity, there is then the stability pact that destroys the autonomy of spending of local authorities and the direct control of the EU over [members states’] public budgets.
How can you ask for more autonomy for the regions if the whole mechanism of government imposed by European austerity denies any freedom of spending to the institutions of the Italian republic?
Maroni and Zaia run the administrations of the two richest regions in the country, which together account for a quarter of the population. Imagine them taking the initiative to cancel the fiscal compact and the stability pact. This would indeed require the consent of the people, precisely because it would impose on the state a different economic policy, even in conflict with the EU constraints.
But the Northern League and all the major Italian political forces are pro-European today. It is better then to ask for an autonomy that is in fact not permissible for anyone, better to ask questions that say nothing about the economic system governed by the Troika. Better a fake referendum than to really engage in conflict with centralised power.
The Lombardy and Veneto referenda do not suggest any real revision of national or regional spending, allude simply to more money for the north and less to the south, but they are also a con, because with the European budget constraints that Maroni and Zaia accept, not even an iniquitous redistribution of resources could happen. There are cuts everywhere and that the sum of it.
So the question of autonomy is fake, but behind it hides a truth, which not by accident has gained traction in the business world. The hidden question is: since institutional austerity tightens the budget of the region, we can regain autonomy by privatizing. Transport, social services, education and especially health in the two regions led by the Lega are increasingly handed over to the market.
The millions of chronically ill patients in Lombardy will be entrusted to a private operator who will have the task of administering their care, naturally finding ways to make profits. In Veneto, the private construction and management contract of one of the largest hospitals in the region has become an unprecedented business venture. The Lombardy region is more zealous than Minister Fedeli in offering companies, for free , the work of students on exploitative workplace placements.
Maroni and Zaia’s referenda therefore serve first and foremost to pursue the ever closer connection between politics and business and the privatization of the welfare state and public services, where Lombardy and Veneto are already at the forefront. The two referenda for autonomy are a hoax with various layers of deception whose only purpose is to create consensus with the system of power governing the two richest regions of Italy. That all the main political forces of the two regions agree is just another sign of the degradation of our democracy.
Translation by Revolting Europe
This was published on Micromega days before the referenda