After the Unification of Italy the new Government, fearing the ghost of the centuries-old preexisting States, started a rigid policy of centralization, whose enforcement was sometimes ruthless.
The first wave of devolution came between the end of World War II and the immediate post-war era. It was not a free choice by the central Government, which was more or less forced to devolve extensive powers to a number of peripheral regions: Sicily and Sardinia looked ready to secede, the Aosta Valley and Trentino Alto Adige were at risk of being returned to France and Austria respectively, Friuli Venezia Giulia was nearly invaded by Yugoslavia and its main city, Trieste, was officially a UN territory.
Only in the Seventies regional administrations were established on the whole national territory, but the new Regions did not get powers in any way comparable to their older counterparts.
In the Nineties, the wealthy Northern Regions looked ready to exploit their economic power to wrestle from Rome a sizable amount of power, perhaps even independence, just like the Flanders in Belgium. However, in the end nothing happened, due to the traditional paralysis of Italian politics, the stronger demographic weight of the Central and Southern Regions and a string of scandals which weakened the local Governments and the pro-devolution parties.
The national Parliament is currently debating a constitutional reform package proposed by Mr Renzi’s Government which, if approved, would once again centralize the Italian government system. Many Italians won’t be disturbed by this: at least the politicians in Regional Parliaments and Governments will have less money to squander.
However, the soundness of this neo-centralist trend is debatable at best. Centralization could exacerbate the inefficiency of the Italian bureaucracy. Above all, the Northern Question is still there, and won’t be resolved by centralization. Stripped of their devolved powers and doomed to be a minority in the national Parliament, the citizens of Northern Italy could start could wondering what benefit they get from a State whose budget is sustained mainly by their taxes. Finally, Mr Renzi’s reform will apply only to the second generation Regions, thus making even more unbearable the legal and tax privileges of the first generation Special Autonomous Regions, whose enterprises can unfairly compete with the ones in the bordering Italian territories.