When Italians elect a new parliament later this month, the German-speaking minority in the far north of the country will be doing so with independence on their minds.
As in other rich parts of Europe, the inhabitants of South Tyrol feel they are being asked to contribute more than their fair share to the country’s recovery.
Separatism in South Tyrol, which was annexed by Italy from Austria in 1919, is hardly new.
The autonomist People’s Party has long dominated regional politics. It controls three out of five municipalities as well as the regional legislature.
But its willingness to do deals with the center-left nationally threatens to erode its support in favor of fringe parties on the right.
The People’s Party is a “big tent”. Like the Northern League, which seeks independence for the entire north of Italy, it has Christian as well as social democratic elements.
Unlike the League, which previously supported Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives, the South Tyroleans have teamed up with the Democrats on the left. Polls predict that they will win the next election.
Right-wing populists in South Tyrol are critical of what they perceive as the People’s Party selling out to national political interests.
Eva Klotz of the South Tyrolean Freedom party has accused them of being “an extension of a national party that will only serve the interests of the state, not those of South Tyrol.”
The separatists have been emboldened by recent attempts to centralize tax and spending policies in Rome.
Mario Monti, who took over as prime minister from Berlusconi in late 2011, has tried to force provincial administrations to rein in spending and reduce waste. Debt-free South Tyrol resents being told to cut and where.
Other northerners feel the same away about paying higher taxes and getting fewer public services in return when it is the backward south that has for years failed to make ends meet. Hence the popularity of the Northern League.