venicesWhile the international spotlight has been on Ukraine lately, specifically with the vote in Crimea to join Russia, there has been another equally significant, but less discussed, vote in Europe. The people of Venice have voted to secede from the nation of Italy.  Over 2 million Venetians voted , with an 89% majority in the referendum, to form their own sovereign state.

This referendum is not legally binding however: it was an unofficial referendum held by Plebiscito.eu, an organization representing a coalition of Venetian nationalist groups. Inspired by the Scotland’s separatist ambitions, the ballot asked the main question “Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign federal republic?” which was followed by three sub-questions on membership into NATO, the EU, and the Euro-Zone (countries using the Euro as their legal tender).

The voters overwhelming picked yes for all of these questions, which surprised even ardent supporters of the secession initiative, as most polls before the referendum estimate only about 65% of the region’s voters supported independence. The proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ would include 5 million inhabitants of the Veneto region, and could later expand to include other northern areas such as Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Campaigner Paolo Bernardini, professor of European history at the University of Insubria in Como, northern Italy, said it was ‘high time’ for Venice to become an autonomous state once again:

“Although history never repeats itself, we are now experiencing a strong return of little nations, small and prosperous countries, able to interact among each other in the global world. The Venetian people realized that we are a nation (worthy of) self-rule and openly oppressed, the entire world is moving towards fragmentation – a positive fragmentation – where local traditions mingle with global exchanges.”

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Veneto’s regional president, Luca Zaia, who is also the referendum’s biggest supporter, echoed the sentiments of the separatist movements across Europe when he declared that international law allowed “the right to self-determination.” However, Italian law itself is a different matter. Mario Bertolissi, an Italian constitutional scholar, claims “The ‘digital plebiscite’ has no legal value and it cannot force anyone to do anything. In short it has no practical consequences.” But with Scotland voting on independence from the U.K. in September and Catalonia weighing an unauthorized November referendum to leave Spain, it’s worth watching how Veneto’s independence campaign unfolds.

What would be the advantage of seceding and having a smaller state though? Political philosopher and economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains the advantages of small, independent countries:

“The apologists of the central state (and of super-states such as the EU) claim that such a proliferation of independent political units would lead to economic disintegration and impoverishment. However, not only does empirical evidence speaks sharply against this claim: the above mentioned small countries(Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc) are all wealthier than their surrounding neighbors. Moreover, theoretical reflection also shows that this claim is just another statist myth geared towards promoting the collection of power in ever fewer hands.  Small governments have many close competitors. If they tax and regulate their own subjects visibly more than their competitors, they are bound to suffer emigration of labour and capital.  Moreover, the smaller the country, the greater will be the pressure to opt for free trade rather than protectionism.”