South Tyrol, Italy's German-speaking northern region, could become another part of Europe considering fuller autonomy than it is enjoying now. Radio VR is discussing it with Luciano Monti, professor of regional European policies at LUISS University in Rome, Italy.
Scotland is holding a referendum on September, 18, when five million Scots would be invited to answer whether Scotland, part of Great Britain since 1707, should be an independent country. Since 1997 Scotland has had its own Parliament, but is not permitted to levy its own taxes.
Catalonia, too, is looking at a breakaway option. Some 7.5 million Catalans produce one fifth of Spain’s economic output but is left with no money for badly needed infrastructure projects, since it transfers large junk of its income to Madrid which in its turn is investing it into weak southern regions. Yet, the November independence referendum it had planned, has already been dismissed by the Spanish government as unconstitutional.
Now, it’s South Tyrol’s turn. "In our movement, we have people preferring a return to Austria. We also have those who want to have a new independent state of Südtirol", says Dr. Eva Klotz, a founder of the South Tyrolean Freedom party.
How serious is one of the richest regions in Italy with a population of less than a million in its craving for more independence?
Says Luciano Monti, professor of regional European policies at LUISS University in Rome, Italy:
"First, we need to distinguish between the claim for independence of the South Tyrol and the claim for a larger autonomy from the Italian Government.
Considering the claim for independence, we have to clarify that only a very small movement called the Süd-Tiroler Freiheit (the South Tyrolean Freedom movement) is in favor of the independence of South Tyrol and joining Austria, the neighbor state. Only 3600 people are the adherents to this movement. And in the last election they obtained only 7% of the votes, so they could send just three representatives to the local Government. In the last European election, they even didn’t present a candidate. So, they are really a very small and not influential party.
Considering on the contrary the claim for a major autonomy of the South Tyrol, we have to also consider that South Tyrol is already an autonomous region. That means that 90% of the money that is obtained from the citizens, is reinvested into the region. So, they have a great fiscal autonomy."
Yes, but, in that sense, what is the idea behind discussing a major autonomy?
Luciano Monti: The idea of this major autonomy has many economic roots. Why? Because the Autonome Provinz Bozen [the official name of the region] is the richest region in Italy. They have the GDP that is at the level of the richest lands of Germany. And even the employment index or the occupation index (people that are employed at this moment) is the highest in Italy. And they have already obtained the goal set by Europe to 2020. So, they ask for more autonomy because their economy is not in that crisis, like the other part of Italy, and mostly the south part of Italy. So, it is an economic and not really a historic reason.
Professor, but this seems to resemble the case of Catalonia?
Luciano Monti: Catalonia already is a larger autonomy, in contrast to our region of South Tyrol. The difference is the number of people. Catalonia is a very large region in Spain. The province of Bozen is no more than 1 million inhabitants. So, it is very small. The difference is the language, because Catalan is the Spanish language. There are some differences, but they are very similar. In Italy, in Bozen 70% of the people still speak German.
So, it is an economic and, I would say, a linguistic minority problem. But this linguistic minority problem has been really solved long time ago. They can attend the German-speaking schools, all the official documents in Bozen are in Italian and in German. If you have to go to the judge, you can defend yourself in German. So, it is a European standard – harmonization rules.
The same problem we had in Estonia and Lithuania, where there was a large minority of Russia-speaking people and the EU said – okay, you can join the EU, but on the condition that you have to respect the Russian minorities. You have to accept the idea of the Russian schools and so on. So, it is a very similar problem.
But getting back to the situation in South Tyrol, do you think that the central Government in Rome is in a position to afford addressing the concerns of people in South Tyrol? Are they in a position to grant them a major autonomy?
Luciano Monti: At this moment, the South Tyrol Party, the major party in South Tyrol, has joined the Government. They are staying with the Premier Renzi. They joined the Government. I mean, it is not a question of a political answer, because the electors of that region have sent to Rome some representatives and they have joined the Government together with the major party.
The problem is that there is a common request for a major autonomy coming from the north of Italy. So, it is not only South Tyrol. Also, in Veneto, which is a big region, there are a lot of requests for a major autonomy. But Veneto, on the contrary, is not an autonomous region, it is an ordinary region. So, they want to become like Tyrol.
Do you think that there are high chances that they would be granted this status?
Luciano Monti: There is nothing very concrete. I don’t think Veneto could obtain a major autonomy. What could happen is that…actually, at this moment we are rethinking and seeking for a reform of the relationship between the central and regional levels. For instance, we are now considering the abolishment of the provinces. The province is a level between municipalities and regions. So, we are to abolish them and that means a major capacity for the regions to intervene directly in their lands.
There are several regions in Italy, there is Catalonia in Spain, there’ve been similar problems in Belgium. Is it already a trend across the EU?
Luciano Monti: Certainly, there is a mainstream for major autonomies in a lot of European regions. We saw it in Spain. We have Italy. And also in Austria for a certain time we had some movements concerning a major autonomy. But, you know, once again, it is an economic problem. When you have a misbalance and they cannot afford investments or sustain the social security in their countries, the richest regions always ask for a major autonomy.
So, let’s say that in Europe we still have the lack of solidarity. The rich people and the rich regions do not want to help. So, the European spirit of helping each other, helping the people and the regions that are still paying for this crisis is not present at the European level. And that is the problem. So, it is not a problem of Tyrol, it is a problem that the EU is still not in harmony considering the solidarity. Everybody is still not thinking about each other.
But do I get it right that you believe that as soon as the economic trouble is over, those processes are going to subside?
Luciano Monti: We have a major sentiment against Europe and the European election has demonstrated that. In England there is an important party against Europe. But I think it is more a trend against Europe and not against the single government. I don’t think that the autonomous movement could really affect the national policies. What happened during the last European election, these people were able to send to Brussels a large number of representatives.
So, the idea is that they are fighting against the idea of Europe, they think that it is responsible for blocking the local economy. The South Tyrol is the most impressive Italian economy, but it is very small. We always have to remember that it is no more than 1 million inhabitants. But it is a very good economy. So, ask for a major autonomy from Brussels and not from Italy.
Why would they be so opposed to Brussels?
Luciano Monti: Because with all of the agreements that Italy and France, and Germany, all the countries have with Brussels, we no more have the authority to increase investments, because we have to pay attention to the relation between the GDP and the deficit and cannot have a monetary policy. So, some people think that these constraints are very blocking, they stop the growth of local economies.
I do not agree with them. This is not true, but a lot of people think so. And chief people in the really rich regions do not understand that it is only thanks to the EU market, that they can really sell and buy things on a common market. You know, maybe you can think of an autonomy of the German market, which is a big market. But you cannot imagine South Tyrol, even annexed to the Austrian market, it is a very small and will remain a very small market. In the era of globalization it is nonsense.