Monday, October 23, 2017

22/10/17: Italian North: another chip off Europe's Nirvana


Having just written about the Czech electoral pivot toward populism last night, today brings yet another  news headline from the politically-hit Europe.

In a non-binding referendums in two wealthiest Italian regions, Veneto and Lombardia, the voters have given local governments strong mandates to push for greater autonomy from Rome and the Federal Government. Both regions are dominated by the politics of Lega Nord, a conservative, autonomy-minded party with legacy of euro scepticism, strong anti-immigration sentiment and the past promotion of outright independence for the Northern Italy.

In both referendums, turnout was relatively strong by Italian standards (58% projected for Veneto and over 40% for Lombardia). And in both, exit polls suggest that some 95% of voters have opted for stronger regional autonomy.

The referendums were not about outright independence, but about wrestling more controls over fiscal and financial resources from Rome. Both regions are net contributors to the Italian State and are full of long run resentment over the alleged waste of these resources. Both regions want more money to stay local.

In reality, however, the vote is about a combination of factors, namely the EU policies toward Italy, the monetary conditions in the euro area, the long-term stagnation of the Italian economy and the centuries-old failure of Italian Federal State to reform the economy and the society of the Southern Italian regions. Italy today is saddled with stagnation, huge youth unemployment, lack of business dynamism, weak entrepreneurship, dysfunctional financial institutions, high taxes, failing and extremely heterogenous public services, collapsed demographics and centuries-old divisions. Some of these problems are european in nature. But majority are Italian.

Greater autonomy for wealthier regions, in my view, is a part of the solution to the long running problems, because it will create a set of new, stronger incentives for the Southern regions to reform. But in the end, it is hard to imagine the state like Italy sustaining its membership in the euro area without an outright federalization of the EU.

In the nutshell, within a span of few weeks, the dormant political volcano of the Europe has gone from stone cold to erupting. Spain, Austria, Czech, & Italy are in flames. Late-stage lava flows have been pouring across Poland, Hungary and the UK, Slovakia and parts of the Baltics for months and years. Tremors in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, (especially Eastern Germany) and Finland, as well as occasional flares of populist/extremist activity in other parts of the Paradise are ongoing. And, it is only a matter of time before populism resurges in France.

All of this with a background of stronger economic growth and booming markets. So wait till the next crisis/recession/market correction hits...

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