Milan – Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said that Rome is prepared to negotiate with two of its wealthiest regions “within the limits of the law”, after voters supported autonomy.
Over 95 percent of those who took part in referendums on Sunday in the northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy, home to Venice and Milan respectively, supported more powers being devolved from the Italian capital.
The leaders of the two regions, which contribute up to 30 percent of Italy’s GDP, want better deals on tax revenues.
“The government is ready to hold talks on the issues of autonomy,” Gentiloni said during a visit to Veneto.
“This will be a complex discussion, but we are ready to carry it out within the limits of the law and the constitution.”
Turnout was higher than expected and analysts warned that the results should not be underestimated in the context of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence.
Voter participation was 57 percent in Veneto and almost 39 percent in Lombardy.
Both regions are run by the Northern League (LN) party, which was once openly secessionist but has lately shifted its focus to run on an anti-euro ticket in the hope of expanding its influence into the south.
The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could eventually lead to powers being devolved from Rome.
“We will discuss how to make Italy function better,” Gentiloni said, adding that there would be no discussions on Italy or its constitution.
“We do not need new social divisions, but we need to repair the divisions the crisis has created”.
Both regions will call for a return of a large part of their fiscal balance, as their residents pay about 70 billion euros ($82 billion) more a year in taxes than the government spends in their regions.
In a taste of the wrangling to come, a row erupted on Tuesday when Veneto President Luca Zaia was widely quoted as saying he would be seeking “special status,” for his region.
That was interpreted as a demand for Veneto to be put on a par with the five Italian regions (Sardinia, Sicily and three frontier regions in the north) that already have extensive autonomy based on their distinctive linguistic and cultural heritage.
The government denounced Zaia’s claims as being “against the unity and indivisibility of the country.”
He later clarified his comments by saying “special status does not come into it,” while confirming he would be requesting new devolved powers in several areas that would require an amendment to the constitution.
Lombardy President Roberto Maroni said he would not ask for special status because the referendum question did not touch on the issue.