The Daily Update - Spain / Italy regional referendums

In Spain’s biggest political crisis since the 1970’s, when democracy was restored, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced plans over the weekend to dissolve the Catalan parliament, thus stripping Catalonia of its autonomy and imposing direct rule from Madrid. Under the measures proposed by the Prime Minister, the government would enforce article 155, which states that ‘If a self-governing Community  acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government can take all measures necessary to protect the above mentioned interests’. Enforcing Article 155 would help achieve the government's four goals; to restore normality and coexistence in Catalonia; to return to legality; to continue the region's economic recovery, and to hold elections under normal conditions.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told the BBC ‘We are going to establish the authorities who are going to rule the day-to-day affairs of Catalonia according to the Catalan laws and norms’. He went on to urge the Catalan people to ignore the current regional authorities, including the police, once Madrid had secured direct rule. ‘They won’t have any legal authority, so they will be equal to a group of rebels trying to impose their own arbitrariness on the people of Catalonia’ is how he put it adding,  ‘everything will be fine’ once the regional police are put under the control of people who respect and who ‘uphold the Catalan rules and Spanish rules’.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was among the nearly half a million people that protested on Saturday in Barcelona in support of the region's move towards independence. He accused Madrid of looking to humiliate the Catalan people. ‘The Catalan institutions and the people of Catalonia cannot accept this attack, those who have scorned the Catalans now want to govern us. I will ask parliament to decide how to respond to these attacks on democracy and to act accordingly’ Puigdemont declared, adding ‘What is being done with Catalonia is directly an attack on democracy that opens the door to other abuses of the same kind anywhere, not just in Catalonia’.

At the same time Spain is striving to prevent Catalonia from breaking away, in Italy two of the wealthiest northern regions have also voted overwhelmingly for greater autonomy in referendums. However, unlike the Catalonia’s, which has been declared unlawful, the two Italian regions votes were held in line with the constitution, however they are not legally binding on Rome. The regions, Lombardy and Veneto, voted more than 90% yes in referendums calling for a mandate to negotiate a better financial arrangement with Rome. Both regions are run by the Lega Nord party, which was once openly secessionist. The turnout was above 40% for Lombardy and 57% for Veneto. Together the regions account for 30 percent of Italy’s economy. For years both regions have complained that their taxes are wasted by Rome, who they accuse of delivering poor-quality public services as well as propping up the poorer southern regions of Italy.

However, the strong ‘yes’ vote could start to open old wounds that divided Italy before unification in the 19th century. In 2015 The Economist issued a report about the Italian North-South divide, and some of the figures are startling. Of the nearly 950,000 Italians that become unemployed between 2007 – 2014, 70% were from the south. Only 40% of the population are employed in the south, lower than in any country in the European Union, and the percentage of female employment is just 33%, lower even than Greece. The unemployment rate in 2014 was nearly 22%. And to add to the problem, the young are leaving in their droves. Between 2001 and 2013 was more than 700,000 people moved north, 70% of them aged between 15 and 34, 25% of the graduates. Maybe this is just the start, because according to Istat, Italy’s statistical body, 4.2mln residents in southern Italy could either move north or abroad over the next 50 years, that’s 20% of the population.