Commentary. Northern-Central Italy is adding jobs, growing industry and welcoming increasing numbers of university students. Meanwhile, the South is losing jobs, industry and students. Meloni’s patriotism is partial.

The patriot Meloni leaves the destruction of the South to the Lega

One can’t expect Matteo Salvini to read even a summary of the latest Svimez report, busy as he is planning the Messina Strait bridge, on which he has hinged his entire strategy to help the Italian South. But we can certainly expect that from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, since she has such deep patriotic sentiments. If she does, she will find that the nation is suffering more and more the further south you go.

The numbers are stark. In the period 2008-21, while the added value of industry in the Eurozone grew by 9.1 percent and contracted by 5.9 percent in Central-Northern Italy, the South suffered a true collapse, with a fall of 27.3 percent. At the same time, employment grew by 2.6 percent in the North-Center and fell by 2.9 percent in the South, while real wages fell by 2.5 percent and 9.4 percent respectively. The working poor now account for one-fifth of total employment in the South, compared to 9 percent in other regions.

Young people under the age of 35 who do not have a job and are not in training (the so-called NEETs) also live predominantly in the South, where their proportion is almost double that in the Center-North. Even worse: in the South, as many as 4 out of 10 people are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, while nationally the number is “only” a quarter.

This is a dramatic situation, which is destined to worsen because soaring energy prices are hitting the South much harder, where the poorest families are concentrated, who stand to be affected more than others, and where there is a greater concentration of small businesses, which are more exposed to the increase in energy supply prices and the higher costs of transportation services. In these conditions, one cannot be surprised by the rise and acceleration of emigration from the South, especially of young people.

Nearly 2.5 million people have left the South from 2002 to 2020, and there is also an increasing number of students who prefer to attend universities in Northern-Central Italy, rising from 20 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2021. By 2070, the area that is today the youngest in the country is expected to become the oldest, and it is expected to lose another 6.4 million inhabitants due to the growing and increasingly obvious gaps affecting every branch of infrastructure and public services.

Particularly significant is the data on schools, with a school system that hasn’t yet been regionalized. In the South, elementary school students attend an average of 4 hours less per week than those in the Center-North, and for 79 percent of them there are no school lunches provided. The rate of early school dropouts, i.e. those who don’t go beyond the eighth grade, is 16.6 percent for southern children compared to 10.4 percent for those living in other regions.

With such a grim picture, the patriotic premier should ask herself whether the draft framework law on regional autonomy presented by her minister Calderoli on November 17 at the Conference of Regions is in tune with the need to restore the unity of our country.

Does she believe that delegating to the richest regions the decision-making power on education, health, infrastructure and much more, with all the attached financial resources, would be a step in the direction that everyone is at least paying lip service to: closing the historic gap between the two Italies? Or isn’t it rather the case that differentiated regional autonomy will mean the end of the unitary Italian state, and a return to the 19th-century states, in modern and unpredictable forms, which will hurt all Italians, including those residing in Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna?

The Lega Nord has become enamored of a new Po Valley “homeland,” and has for years been desperately seeking ways to get rid of what it considers the “dead weight” of the South, recalling Baron Cefalù’s plans to kill his wife in Pietro Germi’s masterful film Divorce Italian Style. Will differentiated autonomy be the “honor killing” that will allow the Lega to fulfill its malevolent plan and finally get rid of the South? And will the patriot Giorgia declare the Southern Question closed, as Fascism mistakenly did a hundred years ago, just to stay in power for a few more years?

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