Veneto says farewell to independence vote

Veneto government refunds citizens having contributed money to cover non-binding referendum costs after Constitutional Court declared vote to be illegal · Pro-secession alliance promotes Council intergroup to seek alternative ways to reach independence

Palazzo Balbi, Veneto government headquarters.
Palazzo Balbi, Veneto government headquarters. Author: Didier Descouens
Even if president Luca Zaia says it is still on the agenda, a planned non-binding referendum on Veneto independence will not be held, with or without permission from the Italian state. Not only the Constitutional Court has nullified the law on the referendum, but the Venetian government has decided to pay back 1,363 citizens the money they had contributed in order to finance the holding of the vote.

The non-binding referendum had been approved by the Veneto Regional Council in June 2014. The question was clear enough: "Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign republic? Yes or no?".

The Italian Constitutional Court suspended the vote as an interim measure until it issued its final sentence, which says regions are not allowed to hold independence votes and, furthermore, argues that an independence referendum would be "incompatible with the fundamental principles of unity and indivisibility of the [Italian] Republic."

Until a few months ago, Zaia (Venetian League-Northern League) insisted the vote would be held irrespective of decisions from the Italian state. But on October 30th, his government decided to drop it out. The Veneto referendum law provided that the referendum's estimated cost of 14 million euros should be financed by non-government contributions. But in October 2015 only 115,000 euros had been collected. Zaia's government then decided to refund contributors.

Zaia on the autonomist way

Zaia was re-elected Veneto president in the June 2015 election. Both during and after the campaign, Zaia stressed that a key issue was to prevent that a constitutional reform underway took powers away from Veneto. Zaia insisted the Italian government should sit down with him in order to "talk on [Veneto] autonomy."

In fact, Zaia has for years argued Veneto should be granted increased autonomy within the Italian Republic. This, according to Zaia, could be done either by turning the territory into Italy's sixth special region or by seeking another formula.

Reacting to the decision by the Constitutional Court, the Regional Council's only explicitly pro-independence alliance (Indipendenza Noi Veneto, one council member) promoted the creation of a Council intergroup aimed at considering alternative ways to move towards the creation of Venetian state. Secessionists said the Constitutional Court's ruling is "incompatible with the principle of self-determination of peoples," and announced they will be seeking to hold "non-binding referendums at the local level."