Istria to Demand Referendum on Autonomy?

By 25 October 2017

Some Istrian politicians think Istria should follow the example of recent referendums in Italian regions.

Referendums on greater regional autonomy, which took place in Italy in recent days, are an excellent European model which could be applied in Croatia as well, said Member of European Parliament Ivan Jakovčić (IDS), commenting on the results of referendums in Lombardy and Veneto, reports Index.hr on October 25, 2017.

Jakovčić believes that such a way of demanding greater regional autonomy could be used in Croatia. This is important, coming from a representative of Istria, a county and unofficial region which has been for years the loudest in demanding decentralization and regionalization of the country. “Unlike the referendum in Catalonia, which was a unilateral move by the Catalan government, referendums in the Italian regions of Veneto and Lombardy are legal. Both referendums were successful, especially the one in Veneto where nearly 60 percent of citizens came to the polls, of which the vast majority voted in favour of greater regional autonomy. It is very important that the referendums were conducted in accordance with the Italian law,” says Jakovčić.

Referendums conducted in Italy could be a good European model which allows citizens who want greater regional autonomy to have their voices heard, said the IDS (Istrian Democratic Assembly) politician. In Lombardy, just 36 percent of citizens voted in the referendum, but according to the rules, that was enough for the result to be valid. These referendums were based on the constitution and the democratic principles of Italian society, Jakovčić adds.

“This referendum model would be good for Croatia. There are Croatian regions, not just Istria, where there are active movements for greater autonomy. Let's ask citizens whether or not they want greater autonomy of their regions,” Jakovčić suggests. But, it is clear that Istria would be the first to do something like this.

He reminds that, at the time of the first SDP-led government (2000-2003), some steps were made towards decentralization. Healthcare and education systems began to be decentralized, so counties and towns which wanted to take over more power over these areas could get such authority. That is why counties and towns could count on higher funding from the state budget. “This is an excellent model which we started to develop in 2001 and 2002. Unfortunately, the project has been stopped,” said Jakovčić, who was a minister in that government.

It is no secret that Istrian politicians have been demanding higher autonomy for years, but this talk about the possible referendum is the first significant step in that direction. The issue was discussed earlier this month due to the Catalan referendum when Jakovčić said there were people who wanted to see independent Istria, but he was not among them. However, just a month later, Jakovčić calls for a referendum.

Fiscal data show that Istria does indeed have the right to be dissatisfied. In January 2015, the study of the Institute of Public Finances, “The Effects of Decentralization in the Republic of Croatia on the Economic and Fiscal Position of the Istria County”, reported that Istria each year pays to the state budget 800 million kunas more than it receives. This is the difference between the revenues which are collected every year in Istria and the expenditures spent in Istria.

The amount of 800 million kunas would be sufficient for the construction of one hospital and one university campus each year, IDS stated in its comment on the study. “If we take into account the number of inhabitants, it is evident that each inhabitant of Istria County annually pays 3,826 kunas more in the state treasury than is needed. The study also shows there are just four counties which can fulfil all their public functions without assistance from other sources. These are the City of Zagreb, Istria County, Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and Zagreb County. All other counties have negative fiscal positions, which means they could not survive without state intervention or borrowing,” concluded IDS in its statement issued in January 2015.

Although the report is a couple of years old, in the meantime nothing much has changed.

Translated from Index.hr.