Italy's prosperous German-speaking South Tyrol autonomous province looks to buy its financial independence from crisis-torn Rome.
In these painful times of severe cuts and austerity, the northern region with a population of half-a-million people stands as a safe haven amidst the storm.
South Tyrol was occupied by Italy at the end of the First World War and annexed in 1919. After WW2 the Allies decided that the province would remain a part of Italy, but would be granted an important level of self-governance.
The province enjoys the status of wide autonomy. Up to 90 per cent of tax revenue stays in the region, while the other 10 per cent go to Rome. But with the economic crisis taking hold over the country, every last euro seems to awaken nationalist feelings. And this is a situation the politicians are all too ready to take advantage of.
Many in the region’s capital Bolzano claim their native town has never been Italian.
Eva Klotz, member of the South Tyrolean Freedom separatist movement in Bolzano, who has spent 30 years of her life fighting for independence, claims "We’re Tyroleans! Our language is German! We were taken from the rest of Tyrol by force almost 100 years ago! We’ve seen fascism, which has affected our language, closed our schools, banned our songs! And now Italy changes our original name into Alto Adige! Enough!”
Well-to-do South Tyrol does not want to bail out the poorer regions of Italy with its money.
The chairman of the popular Libertarian Party Ulli Mair explained that “South Tyrol is not in charge of saving Italy and couldn’t have done so even if it wanted to.”
“Italy is a bad housekeeper with lots of debts! We’re not paying for their debts with our money!" he told RT.
“Theirs” and “ours” are two words, which you hear very often in South Tyrol. And money is at the core of the dispute. The autonomy is expected to contribute €120 million to cleaning up the Italian national budget. To do so, it will have to raise real estate, VAT and income taxes, as well as fees paid by farmers.
Instead, South Tyrol wants "buy its freedom" from Italy once and for all. It even names a concrete purchase price: €15 billion.
“Full independence from Italy is not possible, because new states are unprecedented these days in modern Europe,” admits South Tyrol Economics Minister Thomas Widmann. “We can stay a part of Italy, but we want full financial freedom. We’re ready to pay a solidarity tax of 3 per cent. We’ll pay for foreign policy, fiscal and euro policy. Otherwise, we’ll do the rest on our own. We build our roads in several months, but before it happens we wait for permission from Rome for years!”
Roads and infrastructure in this rich province of Italy are, indeed, very non-Italian. So too is unemployment, which stands at only 2 per cent, compared to almost 10 per cent nationwide.
The most recent polls show that separatist arguments are becoming louder these days, with more South Tyroleans wanting to keep their resources to themselves.