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Mediterranean Regionalisms: Same, Same… But Different?

Mediterranean Regionalisms: Same, Same… But Different?
 Marc Lazar
Senior Fellow - Italy, Democracy and Populism

It is a known fact: one cannot infer much from comparisons. Nonetheless, how can one not be struck this end of year 2017 by the rise of regionalist claims in Catalonia, Lombardy, Veneto and Corsica? There are undoubtedly substantial differences between each case. 

"Catalonia, Lombardy and Veneto are prosperous regions while Corsica basically lives on the funds it receives from the continent"

Indeed, these demands are the product of each country’s distinct history regarding the formation of nation-States. Catalonia, for instance, is peculiar, as is Corsica, although for contrasting reasons. On the other hand, the concept of "Padania", which was invented in the 1980s-1990s, is a rather artificial construction, even if the North issue remains unsolved in the Italian peninsula. Moreover, these regions’ party systems, political cultures and economic realities don’t have much in common: Catalonia, Lombardy and Veneto are prosperous regions while Corsica basically lives on the funds it receives from the continent, as well as on public sector jobs. Finally, the points of advocacy and the actions undertaken by these regionalisms are intrinsically different. The Catalans, divided between several factions, are fighting for their independence and organized an illegal referendum on October 1st. In Italy, both presidents of Lombardy and Veneto, members of the Northern League, held a referendum three weeks later on the basis of Article 116, paragraph three of the Constitution, which allows financially stable regions to negotiate with Rome in order to gain more autonomy. Independence itself is not an option, even if in Veneto, yet again for historical, political and economic reasons, the will to emancipate from Rome is deeply rooted in the culture. The Corsicans were summoned last Sunday to appoint their 63 representatives in a new unique territorial authority. The nationalists achieved a high score, which should give them a large majority in the second round. Unlike in the recent past, they gave up on armed struggles and attacks, but intend to negotiate with Paris to obtain greater autonomy. Independence is not ruled out, but is seen as a less immediate goal, one which could perhaps be reached in about 15 years, according to the nationalist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni.

"They dream of a European Union that would accept the formation of new States with "real peoples""

Catalonia, the two northern regions of Italy, and the “island of beauty” thus don’t seem to share much. However, these polls and their results express an irrepressible longing for autonomy, and in some cases independence, an aspiration also present in other European regions, such as Flanders and Scotland. Most of the time, except in the cases of Corsica, but also Scotland - which suffers from the fall in oil prices, shows a high public deficit and yet remains a prosperous economy -, the regions concerned are rich and have wealthy populations. They often seek to reduce their investment in national solidarity, like in Italy, or simply to emancipate, like Catalonia. These regionalisms, which present themselves as nationalisms, express a profound democratic malaise. They take advantage of the widespread distrust in politicians, the feeling of powerlessness with regards to national politics, the impression that Europe is far away, and thus the desire to find a decision-making body closer to citizens. These movements show a striking ambivalence towards Europe. Indeed, on the one hand, they declare themselves European because their economy, whether it be that of Catalonia or northern Italy, is largely open and benefits from exchanges with other countries, while Corsicans appreciate the resources provided by European tourism. On the other hand, in Italy, the Northern League is divided politically between the sovereignists, who are now reluctant to talk about leaving the euro, and the pragmatists, who criticize both the bureaucracy and the European Union’s democratic deficit, but who intend to remain within. Catalan separatists claim they want to stay within the Eurozone and keep Europe free of borders, but were fooling themselves by thinking their independence could be supported by Brussels. Like Corsicans, they dream of a European Union that would accept the formation of new States with "real peoples", to quote Jean-Guy Talamoni, which also shows that independence remains their ultimate goal. Moreover, both are tempted by an alarming fallback onto their local and regional realities, and their greater or lesser particularisms.

The current events in Catalonia, the victory of the "yes" in the Lombardy and Veneto referendums and the elections in Corsica thus illustrate the deep and dual representation crisis occurring both at a national and European level. Solving this crisis is essential if we want to avoid an escalation of these forms of protest for separation. 

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