Lega Nord (Northern League, LN), whose complete name is Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (Northern League for Independence of Padania), is an Italian political party founded in 1991 as a federation of several regional parties of Northern and Central Italy, most of which had arisen and expanded their share of the electorate over the 1980s.
Its political program advocates the transformation of Italy into a federal State, fiscal federalism and greater regional autonomy, especially for the Northern regions, which they call Padania; at times it has advocated secession. Prior to the party's adoption of the term, Padania was infrequently used to name the Padan-Venetian Plain and was promoted since 1963 by well-known Italian sport journalist Gianni Brera as a modern name for Cisalpine Gaul.
The founding parties of Lega Nord were Lega Lombarda, Liga Veneta, Piemont Autonomista, Uniun Ligure, Lega Emiliano-Romagnola, Alleanza Toscana, plus the newly formed regional/provincial parties in Friuli, Province of Trieste, Province of Trento, Province of Bolzano, Aosta Valley, Marche and Umbria.
The League is led by Umberto Bossi.
One of Lega Nord's principal precursors (and, later, sections), Liga Veneta, based in Veneto, elected a deputy, Achille Tramarin, and a senator, Graziano Girardi in the 1983 general election. In the 1987 general election another regional party, Lega Lombarda, based in Lombardy, attained national significance when its leader Umberto Bossi was elected to the Senate. Since then he has commonly been referred to as the Senatür, the word for "senator" in a number of Northern Italian languages – a nickname maintained even when he was no longer a senator.
The party was formed in 1991 through the merger of various regional parties, including Lega Lombarda and Liga Veneta. These parties continue to exist as "national sections" of the federal party, which presents itself in regional and local contests as Lega Lombarda-Lega Nord, Liga Veneta-Lega Nord, and so on. Support for the party skyrocketed in the early 1990s because of the huge political corruption scandal known as Tangentopoli and the subsequent Mani pulite investigations.
In January 1995, the League gave a vote of confidence to the new formed cabinet of Lamberto Dini, alongside with the Italian People's Party and the Democratic Party of the Left. This caused many splinter groups to leave the party, including the Federalist Union (which was actually founded in June 1994) of Gianfranco Miglio, the Federalists and Liberal Democrats of Franco Rocchetta, Lucio Malan and Furio Gubetti and the Federalist Italian League of Luigi Negri and Sergio Cappelli. All these groups later merged into Forza Italia. Even Roberto Maroni opposed the new course of the party, but after some months of coldness with Bossi, he returned to active politics in June. Between 1995 and 1998 the party entered into alliance with these and other parties of the centre-left in many local contexts, from the Province of Padua to Udine.
In later years the League have deemphasised demands for independence and focused rather on devolution, while remaining within the framework of Italy, as in its original goal: not to secede from Italy but to transform it into a federal state.
During the five years in government of the centre-right that followed, the Parliament voted an important constitutional reform, which included federalism and more powers for the Prime Minister. The alliance that Lega Nord forged with the Movement for Autonomy and the Sardinian Action Party for the 2006 general election was not successful in convincing Southern voters to approve the reform, which was rejected by voters in the 2006 constitutional referendum.
In the aftermath of the fall of Romano Prodi's government on 24 February 2008, which led President Giorgio Napolitano to call an early election, the centre-right was re-organized by Berlusconi in the People of Freedom (PdL), without the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats.
Lega Nord ran in the election in coalition with PdL and the Movement for Autonomy, gaining a stunning 8.3% of the national vote. This result (a gain of 4.2% in two years) allowed the election of 60 deputies (+37) and 26 senators (+13).
Following this result, since May Lega Nord has been represented in Berlusconi IV Cabinet by four ministers (Roberto Maroni, Interior; Luca Zaia, Agriculture; Umberto Bossi, Reforms and Federalism; Roberto Calderoli, Legislative simplification) and five under-secretaries (Roberto Castelli, Infrastructures; Michelino Davico, Interior; Daniele Molgora, Economy and Finances; Francesca Martini, Health; Maurizio Balocchi, Legislative simplification).
Sometimes it seemed possible that the League might also unite with similar leagues in Central and Southern Italy, but this did not succeed, notwithstanding the presence of the Federalist Alliance. The party continues to dialogue with regionalist parties throughout Italy, including the Valdotanian Union, the South Tyrolean People's Party, the Trentino Tyrolean Autonomist Party, the Movement for Autonomy and the Sardinian Action Party, and it always had some figures from the South in its parliamentary ranks. Notably, Angela Maraventano, Deputy-Mayor of Lampedusa, is a senator of Lega Nord.
The political culture of Lega Nord is a mix of pride in the heritage of Northern Italy (particularly with historical references to the anti-imperial Lega Lombarda; the warrior on the party emblems represents Alberto da Giussano, a mythical figure of wars against Barbarossa, from which they inherited anti-monopolism and anti-centralism), distrust of some Southern Italian habits and Roman authorities in particular, some support for free market economics, independentism, distrust of Italy and especially its flag, and claims of a Celtic heritage.
Despite being officially founded on federalism – the party's constitution says that the party will end its political activity when federalism is obtained – Lega Nord is no longer a single-issue party. It is difficult to define it in the left-right spectrum because it is variously conservative, centrist and left-wing with regard to different issues. For example, the party supports both liberal ideas, such as deregulation, and social-democratic ones, such as the defense of wages and pensions. This is because Lega Nord, as a "people's party" representing the North as a whole, includes both liberal-conservative and social-democratic factions. In general, it supports the social market economy and many others goals typical of christian-democratic parties.
Umberto Bossi recently explained in an interview that Lega Nord is "libertarian, but also socialist" and that the right-wing he likes is anti-statist and with a "libertarian idea of a State which weigh on citizens". When asked to tell his most preferred politician of the 20th Century he said Giacomo Matteotti, a Socialist MP who was killed by Fascists in 1925, and remembered his anti-fascist and left-wing roots. He also praised the "courage" of Walter Veltroni, leader of the Democratic Party and did not exclude a future alliance with him, as also the possibility that Lega Nord could be dissolved when Italy would have become a federal State. Regarding this, AffariItaliani, a well-known online newspaper, hinted that by 2013 Lega Nord would merge into The People of Freedom and that Lega Nord's leading members would obtain important roles in the party and, maybe, one of them (Roberto Maroni, Giancarlo Giorgetti or Marco Reguzzoni) would be the candidate for Prime Minister in 2018.
It has been said that the League is populist in the European sense, but it would probably be more accurate to define the party as populist in the American sense, referring to the experience of the United States Populist Party, a short-lived third party grown in the final years of the 19th century. Lega Nord is populist in the sense that it is an anti-monopolist and anti-elitist popular and participative party (it is one of the few Italian political parties to not permit free-masons to join), "fighting against the big powers". This is the reason why the party is strong in the North, despite being obscured and badly-presented by national media, television and newspapers. The party is also libertarian-populist in its promotion of small-ownership, small and medium-sized enterprise, small government against governmental bureaucracy, waste of public funds, pork barrel spending and corruption.
The exact program of Lega Nord was not clear in the early years: some opponents claimed it wanted secession of Padania, while at other times they appeared to be simply requesting more autonomy for Northern regions. The League eventually settled on federalism, which rapidly became a buzzword and a popular issue in most Italian political parties.
In 1996, the party switched to open secessionism, calling for the splitting of Italy in three entities, named by Lega Nord "ideologue" and well-known political scientist Gianfranco Miglio: "Padania", "Etruria" and the "South". As a symbolic act of birth of the new nation, on 13-15 September Umberto Bossi took a bottle of water from the springs of Po River (Latin: Padus, hence Padania), which was poured in the sea of Venice by a little girl a few days later. A voluntary group of militants, the green shirts (green being the colour of Padania), was also established.
The renewed alliance with Berlusconi in 2001 forced the party to tone down, and Padania became the name of a proposed "macro-region", going back to the original idea of Gianfranco Miglio: an Italian federal republic, divided into three "macro-regions". The new buzzword devolution (often used in English) was also introduced, but with less success than federalism. The choice to tone down and settle just for devolution instead of secession caused criticism from the party base and led to the formation of some minor breakaway factions.
As observed above, the peculiarity of Lega Nord among European regionalist parties is that its main goal is the transformation of Italy into a federal state instead of simply demanding special rights and autonomy for Northern regions.
The party has also a stronger commitment to the environment compared to its political allies in the centre-right. When in power at the local level, it strongly supports public green areas, the formation of natural parks, recycling, and the end (or regulation) of the construction of sheds in country areas. Lega Nord also supports the protection of traditional foods and, in general, represents many farmers who are upset about the Common Agricultural Policy.
The party has a tough, and often harsh, stance on crime, illegal immigration, especially from Muslim countries, and terrorism. It supports the promotion of immigration from non-Muslim countries in order to protect the "Christian identity" of Italy and Europe, which, according to party officials, should be based on "Judeo-Christian heritage").
In foreign policy, the League often criticizes the European Union (it was the only party other than the Communist Refoundation Party in the Italian Parliament to vote against the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, but will vote in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon) and opposes what it calls the idea of an "European Super-State", favoring instead a "Europe of Regions", as the Christian Social Union of Bavaria and the European Free Alliance do. The party has never had a particularly pro-United States stance, although it admires the American federal political system. Its MPs opposed both the Gulf War in 1991 and the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 in the name of pacifism, and Umberto Bossi personally met Slobodan Milosević during that war. However, after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the emergence of Islamist terrorism, the League became a supporter of the American efforts in the War on terror, while expressing several reservations about American policy on Iraq.
Unpopularity of Southern Italians (often dubbed as terroni) and resentment against illegal immigrants were also exploited. The electoral successes of the party began roughly at a time when public disillusionment with old political parties was high. The scandals of Tangentopoli were unveiled from 1992 on. However, contrary to what many pundits observed at the beginning of the 1990s, Lega Nord became a stable political force in Italian politics.
Following the 2004 election Lega Nord joined the Independence/Democracy group and later the Union for Europe of the Nations, an someway awkward affiliation for a party which proposes the "Europe of the Regions". The party was affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe until 2006, when its members joined the European Democratic Group.
While the party leadership dismisses charges of racism and declares itself non-violent, there have been instances of speeches, interviews and banners pointing otherwise. Umberto Bossi himself, who described African immigrants as Bingo-bongos, in an interview suggested opening fire on the boats of immigrants who would disembark in Italy, but after widespread criticism he declared he was referring to empty boats.
Erminio Boso, a local leader from the Province of Trento, proposed to segregate immigrants in different train cars from native Italians. The former Mayor of Treviso, Giancarlo Gentilini, while in office, spoke about those he called "immigrant slackers", saying, "We should dress them up like hares and bang-bang-bang.
Through the Associazione Umanitaria Padana (Padanian Humanitarian Association), Lega Nord participates in social and economic humanitarian projects which are intended to respect local cultures, traditions, and identities. The campaigns are carried out in underdeveloped nations or in those that have suffered from war or from natural catastrophes. Locations of recent missions have included Darfur, Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the 1996 general election, which Lega Nord fought outside the big two coalitions, those who supported an alliance with Berlusconi (Vito Gnutti, Domenico Comino, Fabrizio Comencini and others) and those who preferred to enter into Romano Prodi's alliance did not disappear. Some of them (15 deputies out of 59 and 9 senators out of 27) left the party to switch to the centre-right or the centre-left, as Marco Formentini and Irene Pivetti did. The group of Gnutti and Comino was expelled in 1999, after which they formed an alliance with the centre-right at the local level, while Comencini had left the party in 1998 to launch his Liga Veneta Repubblica with the mid-term objective of entering in coalition with Forza Italia in Veneto.
After the decline of Lega Nord in the 1999 European Parliament election, senior members of the party decided that it was not possible to attain the party's goals if they continued to refuse an alliance with one of the two coalitions. Some, including Maroni, who had always been left-leaning at heart, despite his defense of Berlusconi in 1994, preferred an alliance with the centre-left. He reached an agreement, this time the centre-left, only to be refuted by Bossi, who had previously invited him to pursue direct talks with Massimo D'Alema, as in 1994 with Segni. These talks were successful, so that in Lombardy the centre-left candidate in the 2000 regional elections would have been Maroni himself, but Bossi decided to return to the alliance with Berlusconi, who was the front-runner in the upcoming general election. Lega Nord, within with the other House of Freedoms parties, won both the 2000 regional elections and the 2001 general election, and returned to national office.
During the years in government in Rome (2001-06), the party saw the emergence of two different political viewpoints about alliances: some, led by Roberto Calderoli and Roberto Castelli (with the backing of the ill Umberto Bossi), vigorously supported participation with the centre-right, while others, represented by Roberto Maroni and Giancarlo Giorgetti, were less warm about it. Some of them spoke of possibly joining the centre-left some time after the 2006 general election, which they were certain to lose. This idea was ascribed to the fact that, without any support from the left, it seemed even more difficult to win the constitutional referendum, which would have turned Italy in a federal state. The centre-left did not change its position and the referendum was lost, making the North angry with the new Prodi government and the Leghisti less keen on making an alliance with those who opposed constitutional reform.
In the 2008 general election Lega Nord scored 8.3% at the national level, slightly below the result of 1996: 27.1% in Veneto, 21.6% in Lombardy, 13.0% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 12.6% in Piedmont, 9.4% in Trentino-Alto Adige, 7.8% in Emilia-Romagna, 6.8% in Liguria, 2.2% in the Marche, 2.0% in Tuscany and 1.7% in Umbria. Despite a slight decline in term of votes, the party remains particularly strong in the Pedemontana, especially in Lombardy and Veneto, and in mountain zones of Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont.
Lega Nord currently controls six of the 110 Italian Provinces, including some of the most populous ones, namely Sondrio, Varese and Como in Lombardy, Treviso and Vicenza in Veneto, and Udine. Yet Lega Nord is the largest party in the Province of Bergamo, one of the most populated in Italy, the reason why Forza Italia, the dominant party of the centre-right, wants to maintain its hold on that administration, and in other two provinces in Veneto: Verona and Belluno. Mayors of Lega Nord govern some important cities, including Verona, Treviso, Lecco, Monza, Varese and Novara.
|1990 regional||1992 general||1994 general||1995 regional||1996 general||1999 European||2000 regional||2001 general||2004 European||2005 regional||2006 general||2008 general|
|Trentino-AA||-||8.9||7.6||9.6 (1993)||13.2||2.4||4.7 (1998)||3.7||3.5||3.2 (2003)||4.5||9.4|
|Friuli-VG||-||15.3||16.9||26.7 (1993)||23.2||10.1||17.3 (1998)||8.2||8.5||9.3 (2003)||7.2||13.0|
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