Lega Nord and the Independence Consultation in the Veneto Region


Jorge del Palacio Martín. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos


'Do you want the Veneto to become an independent and sovereign federal republic?' This is the question that the people of the Veneto region can answer since last Monday, March 16, through to Friday, 21 on the web page www.plebiscito.eu. The secessionist consultation has been launched by the Indipendenza Veneta movement, which follows the plebiscitary model designed by Artur Mas for Catalonia both in its objectives and in the rhetoric used. However, the political relevance of the query is given by the strong support it has found in the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, from the Lega Nord, who hopes to capitalise a favourable outcome of the Palazzo Balbi's independence thesis.

The scrutiny taking place this weekend will clarify positions and allow a more complete analysis of the strategies that the parties involved may develop from the results arising from the query. Meanwhile, two key issues should be noted which, among others which encourage this phenomenon, may help explain the support that the secession referendum in the region of the Veneto has found in the Lega Nord. In spite that the support of a nationalist party to a secession referendum could seem rather obvious.

First, the radicalisation of the Lega's nationalist discourse in recent months is mainly explained by the electoral debacle of the general elections of 2013, in which the party founded by Umberto Bossi fell from 8.3% to 4.09% of the votes: from 3,024,543 to 1,390,534. At this point, the emergence of Beppe Grillo's 'Movimento Cinque Stelle' deserves special attention. His movement has successfully capitalised the Euro-sceptic vote and the vote against the Italian 'party politics', and is conquering a political space that the Lega Nord used to have. This inability of the Lega to compete with the M5S for the protesters' vote against the Italian party system is the reason which has led Matteo Salvini, new secretary-general of the party from December 2013, to redesign the Lega's strategy, reinforcing the party's original independence as its hallmark.

It is interesting to note that this change of strategy involves undoing the path taken by Umberto Bossi, who cemented the success of the Lega in the 90s by sliding the centre of gravity of his speech from independence to the complaint against the corruption of the traditional parties in the disintegration environment of the Italian political system. This strategy led Bossi to reduce the padano separatist discourse of the Lega, which had traditionally exploited the north-south dichotomy typical of the southern Italian problem summarised in the slogan 'Roma ladrona, la Lega non perdona' (thieving Rome, the Lega doesn't forgive). In the 90s, the Lega endorsed the claim of a confederal state comprised by three Italian republics–Padania, Etruria and the Republic of South–as an element added to the general criticism of the political system and the traditional parties. With this change, Umberto Bossi was able to open the party to anti-establishment voters not exclusively nationalist.

In this strategy of restoration of the Lega's independence speech directed by Matteo Salvini there is a special place for the Liga Veneta's claim, 'madre di tutte le leghe' as the origin of the Lega Nord. Note here the importance of the emergence of names like Franco Roccheta, founder of the Liga Veneta in 1979, or Alessio Morosin. Morosin is the honorary president of the movement Indipendenza Veneta, organiser of the consultation and the main theorist of the right of self-determination of the people of Veneto as a natural right and author of the book Auto-determinazione. Come ri-conquistare l’indipendenza del Veneto, da un Stato baro, in modo pacifico, con la democrazia e il diritto (2013). But Alessio Morosin is also a man historically linked to the Lega who left the party in 1998 due to disagreements with the political line marked by Bossi. In this sense, the support received by the independence consultation organised by Indipendenza Veneta by Luca Zaia symbolises the recovery of the secessionist dimension of the Lega's policies. Or at least, the will to seize it.

Second, the radicalisation of the nationalist content of the Lega's speech also bears a reactive dimension to the institutional reforms plan driven by Matteo Renzi, which should be taken into account to understand the Lega's change in strategy. On the one hand, the reform of the electoral law by Renzi seeks to promote bipartisanship, which threatens the area of parliamentary power enjoyed by the Lega Nord thanks to the current majoritarian electoral system. On the other, the reform package of the new leader of the  Partito Democratico is considering a change in the balance of power between the state and the regions in support of the former through the reform of Title V of the Italian Constitution, which has triggered Renzi's accusation as a 'neocentrist' by the Lega.