The Erosion of Italian Regionalism

(published on 31 October 2019 on

Elections in the small, peaceful, politically stable region of Umbria in central Italy normally go rather unnoticed. Since its establishment in 1970, the region, which now counts some 880.000 inhabitants, has always had a clear leftist majority. So far, it has been governed uninterruptedly first by the communist party and, since the 1990s, by its successors. Together with Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, Umbria has been one of the historical strongholds of the Italian left, a model in terms of good administration, social cohesion and quality of life. When it was excluded from the national government, the left used the success story in Umbria and other regions as a showcase of its political ability and reliability.

The attention given to the regional elections in Umbria didn’t change when the direct election of regional presidents was introduced in 1995 (and constitutionalized in 1999), making Italy the only European country with a presidential system at regional level. For the past two decades, the only electoral thrill in the region  was the amount of votes and the broader or smaller margin in favour of the presidential candidate from the leftist coalition.

All of a sudden at the end of this summer, the usually low-key election of this fortunate region with a rather unspectacular political system brought Umbria into the spotlight of national politics. In Rome, the coalition between Matteo Salvini’s right wing Lega and the populist Five Stars Movement had collapsed, due to the former’s desire to capitalize its growing popular support especially on an anti-immigration agenda. To avoid snap elections that would most likely have made the Lega the first party in Parliament, a new political coalition was formed, under the same Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Now the junior partner of the Five Stars Movement is the moderate leftist Partito Democratico, from which its former leader and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi split to form his own party, Italia Viva, – a move that allows Mr Renzi to support the government but to control its life: should he leave the coalition, it would no longer have a majority in Parliament. Continue reading