For the first time since the Italian Unification, the “southern question” is not just a problem, but a national opportunity.
The crisis brought about by the pandemic shows the fragility of the Italian development model, centered on the economy of a North with “heavy” industries and businesses; the South remains far away, as fast rail transport and quality roads stop at Naples, while maritime transport lags behind and internet connections are weak and limited.
However, just like in the dramatic situations occurring all over the globe, the Web has been a great help in the absence of the possibility of contact. Therefore, the first necessity is to ensure coverage over the entire Italian territory.
The current model of “modernization of normal life” feeds on energy from fossil fuels, expels pollutants and exacts the price of environmental degradation. The pandemic has laid bare the fragility of the residential and labor model of urban agglomerations with high population density (and with a low presence of wooded greenery) and the centralization of activities. Italy’s internal areas are depopulated, as the dominant culture of the metropolis reigns supreme.
But not everyone thinks in these terms anymore. As noted by Perna and Bevilacqua in this newspaper, the tempest of the pandemic has brought back many young people to the South, who are looking towards a new possible future, to be developed in their homeland, built on “sustainable development and circular economy” and (in full agreement with Minister Provenzano) for a South aimed at young people, connected and inclusive, compatible with the ecological conversion, a frontier of innovation and open to the Mediterranean, Africa and the East.
The 2030 Plan for the South, an inescapable choice for the energy and ecological transition and to ensure strictly sustainable national development, embraces culture, training, research, agriculture, environment and nature, tourism and industry. This is how new jobs can also flourish.
The choice regarding energy will be of fundamental importance: more renewable energy sources and clean energy carriers (most importantly, hydrogen and green electricity), but together with widespread, micro-level energy efficiency, as recommended by the International Energy Agency.
From the start, the direct cooperation of the communities concerned (both urban and rural) is needed, as indicated by the Green Deal and the science of sustainability.
The experience of San Francisco in the 2000s, which has become paradigmatic, is a virtuous and successful example.
The state must implement reforms and reconquer territories affected by the scourge of illegality, creating jobs and favoring facilitated credit for the construction and pursuit of dignified lives, free from criminal threats. Furthermore, it must reform institutional structures and administrative staff, adopting simplification and digitization.
It must create the networks of interconnections (roads, railways, sea (and air) routes, as well as IT networks), and equip the southern ports for trade with Africa and Asia, all the way to China.
It must promote research and encourage technology transfer, with start-ups that would revitalize the role of the southern universities, of research centers, of the National Research Council and the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA).
The public health system needs to be reinforced, with renewed technological equipment, employment contracts that would also encourage the return of health personnel that has moved away, and the activation of a prevention and treatment system centered on the territory, thanks to novel telemedicine and proximity medicine.
As demonstrated in San Giorgio a Cremano, the South can become a frontier of innovation, with the support of startups and SMEs, promoting information technology in the energy sector, in agriculture, industry and agricultural and culinary businesses, as well as cultural heritage and technological innovation tout court. Cooperatives should be promoted in order to reduce the costs of services and investments in agricultural machinery, transport, distribution, conservation, expansion of supply and reduction of waste.
This is valid not only for agriculture, but also for tourism and SMEs. In this way, the South will everywhere become a construction site, model and development engine for the great and beautiful Italy as a whole. It will be necessary to support medium and small municipalities, with the offer of a new residential and working environment that would favor an increased birth rate and the care for the elderly—whenever possible—within a family context, with the support of public assistance.
One must implement a housing policy for all citizens, including the disadvantaged, and for anyone wishing to move to the Italian South, including foreigners fleeing any kind of danger. One must think of a large-scale housing plan to assign abandoned houses in an “almost free” regime, with the availability of hyper-subsidized credits for renovations—linked to one’s prospects, not one’s present disposable income—and for supporting cooperatives. The extension of the model of consortium-type real estate organizations, guaranteed (and supervised) by the state, can help (a virtuous example has been demonstrated in the port of Piombino). One must stimulate the creation of hotels widespread across the territory. Renovations and maintenance will create stable employment.
As the Minister rightly hopes, it is imperative to ensure effective freedom of choice for those who have returned from other regions: should they stay or re-emigrate? This requires great visibility (and support) for the Plan and quick action, if it is to be consequential and offer measurable and tangible elements. There is extraordinarily large availability of European funding. Using this funding, we must start very soon to implement the following: for a two-year period, activate public works through exceptional tender procedures such as those for the reconstruction of the Genoa bridge; together with the universities, support local authorities and small businesses in participating in regional, national and European calls for tenders; begin environmental and hydrogeological reclamation and restoration; and implement reforestation. We must start immediately, with maximum visibility and without any fear.
Enzo Naso is director of the Interuniversity Research Centre for Sustainable Development (CIRPS).
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