March 17, 2014 5:55 pm

Europe’s other referendum? Italy’s Veneto region has its own independence vote

A woman casts her ballot in the Crimean referendum in Simferopol, Ukraine, Sunday, March 16, 2014.

Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo

Crimea isn’t the only region in Europe that hopes to abandon the its ruling government and set out its own.

A long hop across the Balkan peninsula and the Adriatic Sea, the people of Italy’s Veneto region are also mulling an independent future.

And like Ukraine, Italy has no intention of recognizing a claim of sovereignty in its eighth-largest region.

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What’s different about this situation, apart from the lack of Russian troops occupying the region, is that it’s happening over the course of a week and it’s all online and, as of now.

It’s also not a referendum per se: It’s a vote to drum up support for a bill to call for a referendum on whether Veneto should break away.

READ MORE: Ukraine crisis: Putin declares Crimea ‘sovereign and independent’

The vote got under way on Sunday, the same day Crimeans voted almost 97 per cent in favour or reunifying with Russia, and will close on Friday.

Crimea’s Russian-speaking population, with encouragement from the Kremlin, voted in a widely discredited referendum to return to what is now the Russian Federation 60 years after the Soviet Union’s Nikita Krushchev handed over control of the peninsula to what was once Soviet-ruled Ukraine.

READ MORE: What are Crimea’s first steps to leave Ukraine and join Russia?

But Veneto is aiming to go back 217 years, to the independence it enjoyed before Napolean invaded in 1797.

Veneto was then a part of the Austrian empire for six decades, before Italy annexed it in 1866.

Veneto is home to approximately 4.96 million people – almost 270,000 of whom live in the would-be national capital of Venice – and a recent opinion poll reportedly suggested about 65 per cent of the population want to form an independent country.

Michelle Locke/AP Photo

Veneto is home to approximately 4.96 million* people – almost 270,000 of whom live in the would-be national capital of Venice – and a recent opinion poll reportedly suggested about 65 per cent of the population want to form an independent country.

The Telegraph reported Venetians in favour of sovereignty are unhappy with Italy’s faltering financial situation and want to cut ties with Rome.

“For decades there has been deep-seated dissatisfaction in the rich northern regions of Italy with what is widely regarded as inefficient and venal rule from Rome, as well as resentment that hard-won tax revenues are sent south and often squandered,” the Telegraph reported.

Those against talk of secession from Italy say Europe will be stronger if it’s not broken up into smaller republics.

“It is anachronistic to think of a Europe made out of regions when we should strive for a Europe of stronger nations,” Pietro Piccinetti, president of the Committee for the “No” vote, told the Independent. “We want to change, but within a stronger Italy.”

According to the Independent, Venetians are also voting on whether they want an independent Republic of Veneto to join the European Union and NATO.

International law professor Fabrizio Marrella told the Independent that could make the region more economically unstable.

“If it were to become independent, Veneto would leave the EU and then have to re-apply for EU membership. This would spell disaster for Veneto’s economy,” the Ca’Foscary University professor told the Independent.

While the vote may not bring about a new sovereign nation – Rome says it won’t recognize the results and the vote is not legally binding, according to Agence France-Presse – activists feel it could pave the way to independence down the road.

READ MORE: What you should know about Crimea’s referendum

“If Barcelona [in Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region] gets independence, Veneto could adopt the same method and get it, too. We have knocked politely on the door of federalism, but it did not open. Now we will break down the door,” AFP reported Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia saying.

Catalonia is due to hold a referendum on independence from Spain in November, the result of which the Spanish government refuses to recognize as a legitimate vote. Scotland will also hold a sovereignty vote in September, which the British government recognizes as legal.

Russian state media, meanwhile, has taken the opportunity to point out the Veneto vote is not getting remotely the same attention or criticism as the Crimean referendum, the result of which Canada, the United States, and many European Union leaders have called “illegitimate.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated Monday that Canada views the result of the referendum is illegitimate because it was conducted under an illegal military occupation by Russia.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the population of Veneto was 3.8 million people. The population of Veneto is approximately 4.96 million. The number of eligible voters is reportedly 3.8 million.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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