Berlusconi’s main ally in Italy’s upcoming elections, Roberto Maroni, is running in the Lombardy regional elections. He founded the Northern League together with Umberto Bossi, back in the 1980’s.
After a series of scandals and investigations, the party lost half of its votes in recent months: its leadership was suddenly questioned, also because a part of the scandal touched Bossi’s family itself.
When Maroni was elected secretary last July it ended a month-long behind the scenes dispute between the two leaders.
Maroni’s candidacy as regional governor in Lombardy was put forward very soon by the Northern League, which is trying to re-connect with its traditional electorate.
Unusually the party leader, Maroni is not candidate in the national elections, which are due on the same days as the regional ones.
“Having the governor’s job in Lombardy is more important than being a Minister a thousand times. And I say that having been a minister three times,” Maroni has said.
“I’m not a candidate in Rome, I don’t want any easy safety net, even if I could have it: that’s because I believe it, because I believe this is the right decision for myself and the Northern League, because I’m a convinced federalist and I put my territory, Lombardy, before everything else.”
Actually, very much of the national result could depend on Lombardy, as the electoral system for the Senate stipulates that the votes have to be counted regionally: Maroni’s eventual victory as regional governor could indirectly cause a Senate without a clear majority. That’s why Milan has seen all national candidates campaigning more there than elsewhere, and Maroni has been occupying the media as if he was a national candidate.
Still, during this electoral campaign he didn’t speak of national issues, he focused on the regional and macro-regional issues and even said that he will give up the party leadership after the elections:
“I believe in a simple principle: ‘one ass, one chair,’ he said. “I could not be a good governor in Lombardy while at the same time the Northern League’s secretary. There’s no time to do both things. Furthermore, Lombardy’s governor has to be the governor of Lombardy, not of a political side. And I want to be governor also for those who didn’t vote for me. So, as I already said, I will call an extraordinary party Congress in order to allow the Northern League to choose a new leader”.
The same goes if he loses: the party will have a new leader. Still, he seems convinced that he will win, and all polls show a neck-to neck race between him and the Democrat Party candidate.
During this electoral campaign, he has decided to focus on a quite ambitious program. For him, his party and – he says – for Northern Italy and even Europe, it is a “make or break” bet:
“If I win in Lombardy, a new phase will open: it’s about the path which leads to the creation of the macro-region, and in the same time the first piece of the new Europe of the Regions. It’s an ambitious project, which is not concerning the destiny of Lombardy only, but of the entire North. And it could change history: in Italy’s Northern regions and in Europe. I hope it’ll become true, because otherwise it would be a disaster: we would go backwards of twenty years, and not only for the Northern League, but for Italy’s North”.
In Maroni’s mind and words, Northern Italy has to come first. This is where the Northern League’s votes (6 percent nationally) are concentrated. If Maroni wins in Lombardy, his party will rule in all the biggest northern regions. The project is to group them in a macro-region, and Maroni says it goes far beyond Italy’s borders:
“There’s a European project, to build up a euro-region around the Alps and the Padan plain* which already foresees four Italian regions and region of our states, including Slovenia, Carinthia, Switzerland, and a French region also. This is the model of Euro-region which I want to make reality, but starting from Italy’s regions, the four regions which, put together, form the Northern macro-region. But using the European instruments, as our perspective is a new Europe of the Regions”.
Even if there’s the word “Europe”, which is circulating in Italy’s politics, this kind of project is not really well accepted in Rome. Many – the national parties argue – it’s a kind of revised, “soft” form of secession of the North, but Maroni disputes this:
“It’s not a break, it’s just an evolution of Italy’s federal transformation, which is still unachieved: to value the territories, to allow the territories to rule themselves, is a good thing, a democratic thing, a thing which goes in the sense of really recognising the importance of the territories. The macro-region means this. I always talk about the North, I say North first, I don’t say Padany**, because the North implies the South, in a dialectic relation, which needs another side to exist in order to have a dialogue with it. Still, after all these years, we say that the North should think a bit more of its own interests.”
As in every separation, the first and probably the biggest step goes on money: the Northern League macro-regional project says that every region should keep at least 75 percent of the taxes paid on its territory. Which means that the rich regions in the North, worth nearly 60 percent of Italy’s GDP (Lombardy alone produces nearly 25 percent of the country’s GDP) could do much more than today, while those who have fewer resources should review their spending policies:
“It’s our money, it’s our money. If we were an independent State we would keep 100% of our money. We are, at least for now, part of a national State and today in Lombardy just 66 percent, or around 2/3 of the money paid in taxes remains in the Region. We want to raise this quota at 75 percent, which means 16 billion euros more annually. With this money we would solve all our problems, and still we would give to the other regions a nice chunk, 25 percent. This means that the other regions have to improve their performances in public spending, but that’s what they have to do anyway”
Roberto Maroni has had a very intense electoral campaign: lots of radio and TV appearances, many meetings with different social categories, and no crowd events, except in the last day. The typical, well-known hardline speeches in front of a crowd seem to have gone, relegated to the past together with the quickly dispatched leader, Umberto Bossi.
The Northern League’s past has also been quite often marked by the shock wave generated by some sentences or proposals which were considered unacceptable in Europe. The Northern League’s new leader argues that his party has been unfairly treated, often defined as populist:
“Well, Einstein said that it is easier to disintegrate an atom than a prejudice. It’s a diffused prejudice, but absolutely unjustified: we are not populists, except in the sense that we are close to the people. The people are our strength, we are a party which has deep roots in its territory, like no one else; we are present in all the northern municipalities, like no one else; we involve many persons, thousands and thousands of militants, normal persons, part of the people, who are supporting us: like no one else. Those in Europe who show themselves as kind of professors and always put us in these reports, well, I invite them to visit us here for some days, some weeks, and they’ll notice that reality, luckily for us, it’s much different from the prejudices which are circulating in Europe”
*Padan plain: the plain crossed by Italy’s main river, Po (Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and part of the Emilia region)
- Padany: the name given by the Northern League under Bossi’s leadership to a phantom State, including Italy’s alpine region and the biggest part of the Padan plain. Northern League’s parliamentary group has even been called “Northern League for the Independence of Padany”, and this was authorized by Rome’s institutions. Maroni is actually letting aside Padany, and talking about “North”
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