MILAN — Italy’s Lombardy and Veneto regions, which play a pivotal role in the fashion industry, are seeking more autonomy from the central, Rome-based government. Voters in a referendum on Sunday expressed their wish to keep a higher percentage of their tax revenues within their regions. Although the heads of the two regions, which together account for about 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, will still need to negotiate their financial independence with the central government, what could this vote mean for the fashion industry and how do some of its players view it?
Matteo Marzotto, whose textile family hails from Valdagno in the Veneto region and who is president of jewelry trade show Vicenzaoro and of fashion brand Dondup, said the referendum’s question was too vague, generating “confusion and more extreme positions, easing divisions.” He said being more specific was a must in the wake of Brexit and Catalonia’s poll for independence. Marzotto argued that “to reason locally does not lead us anywhere, and I say with all my respect for that extraordinary mosaic of culture and tradition that form Italy, which I love so deeply. Today, the world is multiglobal, the markets peppered by colossus, and to compete it is necessary to remain united, to be part of a bigger system.” He noted how the two regions extend into Europe. The entrepreneur said he did not vote because he believes Veneto could benefit from being “part of a strong State” and would thus be “more competitive.”
According to fashion association SMI Sistema Moda Italia, Lombardy in 2016 counted around 8,897 companies in the textile and fashion sector, or 19.1 percent of the total in Italy, ranking number one, followed by Tuscany and Veneto, respectively with 8,610 and 5,021 firms. Lombardy accounted for 31.8 percent of textile and apparel exports, while Veneto represented 16.2 percent of total.
Former Benetton chairman Luciano Benetton, whose family company is based near Treviso, in the Veneto region, was also not in favor of the vote. “Autonomy from what? It seems to me like a joke,” he told local media Tribuna di Treviso. “With the Benetton campaigns, we have tried to feel European well before the 2000s, when a single passport and a single currency were introduced.” To be sure, the brand’s United Colors of Benetton and its communication campaigns lensed by Oliviero Toscani and fronted by multiracial models have made history.
Conversely, OTB founder Renzo Rosso said he voted for an increased autonomy of Veneto, where the company is headquartered, and, as a consequence, “for increased responsibility in all regions. Why does a person from the South of Italy have to be cured in the North? It’s not fair. Each region must become important, directly manage its own resources and in the most efficient and efficacious way.” He said Italy was “the most beautiful country in the world,” but it was undervalued. “I hope this change will unequivocally emphasize those who really act in the interest of people and those that simply must not be reelected.”
Former Salvatore Ferragamo chief executive officer Michele Norsa, who has worked with both the Marzotto and Benetton families and is now a member of the board of directors of Ermenegildo Zegna and is an industrial partner in Fondo Strategico Italiano (Italian Strategic Fund), said he did not view the referendums as “a wrench,” compared to the situation in Scotland and Catalonia, but more as “continuing a democratic process that has already started. They are an indication to pursue that direction.” Norsa believes that Lombardy and Veneto, which are already solid and positive regions, “with the appropriate stimuli such as fiscal autonomy, would be fueled and helped to grow more in the world.” Fashion, he said, has proved to be a global business, and success does not depend on local issues but on the strength of brands and production. “Interventions on the redistribution of tax revenues could be profitable and add confidence to entrepreneurs, who could invest more.” He said he was not unfavorable to the regions’ proposed autonomy and said this was “more an economic rather than a political issue.”
Armando Branchini, deputy chairman of Milan-based consultancy InterCorporate, said the autonomy could help streamline Italy’s bureaucracy and to “expedite processes.” Although he believes it is “a dream” to keep nine-tenths of the tax revenues within the regions, “if handled with intelligence,” autonomy could yield positive results. “These two regions are among the most European and the decision-making could be faster, with less obstacles and bureaucratic steps.” That said, he urged to take into consideration principles of solidarity toward the poorer regions.
Almost 60 percent of voters participated in the referendum in the Veneto region, with 98 percent of total voting in favor of autonomy.
Lombardy saw more than 38 percent of the population voting, and 95 percent of these were in favor of autonomy — the quorum was not necessary in this region. Incidentally, in Lombardy, for the first time, the vote had been carried out through more than 24,000 tablets.
The referendums were promoted by the party of Lega Nord, or Northern League, and the regional presidents are beginning to negotiate with Rome for financial independence in more than 20 areas, from education to immigration.
In Italy, there are five regions that are already under “special statute,” with financial, legal and administrative autonomy. The reforms are possible within the Constitution.