Federalism, the answer to Italy’s peculiarities?

To all interested in Italian affairs, it has become increasingly apparent that Italy is perceived more and more like a problem by the EU. Wait a minute! An Italian “Question”? Most of you will have heard about the so-called “Southern Question,” i.e., the problem posed Italy by its underdeveloped South. In the heading, the word “peculiarities” was chosen to express similar differences in respect to its neighbors. I purposely chose not to use the word “problem” because being what one is, can never be a “problem,” provided one knows who and what he is. And what differences Italy may have in respect of its neighbors within the EU, are “peculiarities” that distinguish Italy from most of her neighbors except Germany. Whoah! I know what you are thinking: the Germans are so different from the Italians … and they are … more in their institutions, less so in their language and culture. If you know European history, you will know that Italy – and this is one of her most significant peculiarities — for centuries was an important part of the First German Reich or Holy Roman Empire, a sort of medieval European Union, if you wish, perhaps more German than Roman but one, in which the Northern States of the Italian Peninsula for centuries played an important role, by virtue of their Lombard leadership and heritage.

After defeating the Lombards at Pavia in 774 AD, Charlemagne wound up controlling most of Western Europe. His Empire encompassed all lands and territories from the so-called “Spanish March” (Catalonia) in the West [and now we know where Catalan indipendistas really come from], excluding most of the Iberian Peninsula to the Polish March in the East. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of this sprawling Empire on Christmas Day, 800 AD in Rome by Pope Leo III. Now, King of the Franks, Lombards, and Romans, he would die in 814 AD and bequeath the Empire to his son Louis the Pius. Upon the death of Louis, the Empire would be divided among his three nephews, Charles, Lothar, and Ludwig, not without dispute and civil war. The Treaty of Verdun (843 AD) would put an end to the dispute, as well as the civil war. The Frankish Empire was now cut into three: the Eastern Kingdom, under Ludwig, comprising Germany, Bohemia, and Moravia to the Polish March, the Middle Kingdom under Lothar, which stretched from modern-day Holland all the way to Rome. Substantially out of Frankish control remained Latium and the Papacy, Naples, Calabria, the southern tip of Apulia, Sicily, Sardinia. The two southern Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento called Longobardia Minor would be henceforth cut off from the northern duchies of Longobardia Maior. The division of Italy would remain a constant henceforward. Finally, the Western Kingdom under Charles ruled over most of modern-day France and the Spanish March.

Ok, but what do the early middle ages have to do with modern Italy. Well, because of the two peculiarities: the first, a positive one, Italy would always partner with their German cousins from the First Reich on; the second, a less positive one, Longobardia Minor in the south of the Italian Peninsula, would soon be cut off by the Papacy, in Rome and forced to develop independently of Longobardia Maior in the North. Now some of you historians out there will probably say, hey, that didn’t cramp the style of the Holy Romano-German core. And I would reply well, not exactly; it did cramp the style of the German core also and for much the same reasons: both the core of the Holy Roman Empire and its southern appendage suffered from lack of unity until the second half of the 19th Century. True, for centuries, the self-governing states of the Holy Roman Empire coexisted well within the loose confines of an Empire that was anything but centralized, without decentralization being perceived as a weakness. Autonomy or self-government had always been a Germanic trait that characterized the Franks and the Lombards too. Their individualism and love of freedom and independence were what had made great the Germanic peoples in the West, Center, and East of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the Italian Peninsula Longobardia Maior thrived and as long as it was not completely cut off from its southern brethren, so too Longobardia Minor. But when the Papacy and Latium began to develop outside of the Empire cutting off the northern Lombards from the southern Lombards, these two macro areas began to drift further and further apart until the process of unification restarted in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the Duchy that became the driving force behind Italian unification was the francophone Duchy of Savoy turned Kingdom of Sardinia / Piedmont. By that time the Savoy Monarchy had become hung up on big government and centralization along the French model. A good form of government, perhaps, for a homogeneous mountain people that spoke a similar Franco-provencal language on both sides of the Alps!

By contrast, the Germans remained true to their love of individualism, freedom, and independence and chose federalism as a means of uniting the different German states (made up of Principalities, Duchies, and Kingdoms) into a federal Empire around Prussia with its King as Emperor. Had Savoy, which modeled its Army on that of Prussia, followed suit politically, they might have been able to unite Italy into a federal State by federating the smaller political units of the North together with the two bigger Kingdoms of Sardinia / Piedmont and The Kingdom of Naples, which had ruled over Longobardia Minor, including Calabria, Apulia and Sicily for over 450 years!

Such a union might have allowed for multiple jurisdictions and helped the two major Sections of the Country get to know each other again and perhaps meld over time. As things turned out, the two major Sections of united Italy co-exist precariously and without much love the one for the other within the confines of a dysfunctional single jurisdiction where the law is the same for cultures and peoples that are as markedly diverse as any to be found in the EU.

2 thoughts on “Federalism, the answer to Italy’s peculiarities?

  1. Good points all around! In all my years in Italy, I have always heard disparaging remarks from one region directed at others. It borders on comical.

    1. Two articles a week apart by Francesco Alberoni on the Sunday issue of the Corriere Della Sera seems to agree with me also. In fact, it is as if he had read my blog: He believes like I do that Italy should have been organized into a federal system like that of Germany’s from the very beginning and that for the EU to succeed each member states should likewise adopt a federal structure, much like in the US.

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