|Federal Secretary||Matteo Salvini|
|Federal President||Umberto Bossi|
|Founded||4 December 1989 (alliance)
8 January 1991 (party)
|Merger of||Liga Veneta
|Headquarters||via Bellerio, 41
|Youth wing||Giovani Padani
|European affiliation||EFA (1989–94)|
|European Parliament group||Rainbow (1989–94)
|Chamber of Deputies|
|Politics of Italy
Lega Nord (LN, often referred to as Northern League by English-language media and literally translatable to as North League), whose complete name is Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (North League for the Independence of Padania), is a federalist and regionalist political party in Italy. It was founded by Umberto Bossi 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.
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 parties of the other northern regions.
In popular usage the party is generally referred to simply as Lega and is frequently nicknamed il Carroccio in newspapers, after a four-wheeled war altar drawn by oxen, used by the medieval republics of northern Italy which formed the Lombard League in opposition to the imperialist design of Frederick I Barbarossa.
Lega Nord's political programme advocates the transformation of Italy into a federal state, fiscal federalism and greater regional autonomy, especially for the northern regions. At times it has advocated secession of the North, which it calls Padania. Prior to the party's adoption of the term, Padania was infrequently used to name the Padanian-Venetian Plain and was promoted since 1963 by sports journalist Gianni Brera as a modern name for Cisalpine Gaul.
The long-standing leader of the party has been Umberto Bossi, who was Minister for Federal Reform in Berlusconi IV Cabinet. From 2012 to 2013, the party secretary was Roberto Maroni, President of Lombardy and former Minister of the Interior, then in December 2013 Matteo Salvini became the new secretary after defeating Umberto Bossi in the leadership election. Leading members include Luca Zaia (President of Veneto), Roberto Cota, Flavio Tosi, Roberto Calderoli, Roberto Castelli, Francesco Speroni, Giancarlo Giorgetti, Massimo Bitonci, Lorenzo Fontana and Attilio Fontana.
At the 2010 regional elections Lega Nord was the largest party in Veneto (where Zaia was elected President by a landslide 60.2% of the vote), the second largest in Lombardy, the third largest in Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Liguria.
- 1 History
- 2 Ideology
- 3 Factions
- 4 Popular support
- 5 Leadership
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 Further reading
- 9 References
Precursors and foundation
At the 1983 general election Liga Veneta, based in Veneto, elected a deputy, Achille Tramarin, and a senator, Graziano Girardi. At the 1987 general election another regional party, Lega Lombarda, based in Lombardy, gained national prominence when its leader Umberto Bossi was elected to the Senate. The two parties, along with other regionalist outfits, ran as Alleanza Nord in the 1989 European Parliament election, gaining 1.8% of the vote.
Lega Nord, which was first launched as an upgrade of Alleanza Nord in December 1989, was officially transformed into a party in February 1991 through the merger of various regional parties, notably including Lega Lombarda and Liga Veneta. These 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", "Lega Nord–Piemont", and so on.
The League exploited resentment against Rome's centralism (with the famous slogan Roma ladrona, which loosely means "Rome big thief") and the Italian government, common in northern Italy as many northerners felt that the government wasted resources collected mostly from northerners' taxes. Cultural influences from bordering countries in the North and resentment against illegal immigrants were also exploited. The party's electoral successes began roughly at a time when public disillusionment with the established political parties was at its height. The Tangentopoli corruption scandals, which invested most of the established parties, were unveiled from 1992 on. However, contrarily to what many pundits observed at the beginning of the 1990s, Lega Nord became a stable political force and it is by far the oldest party among those represented in the Italian Parliament.
Lega Nord's first electoral breakthrough was at the 1990 regional elections, but it was with the 1992 general election that the party emerged as a leading political actor. Having gained 8.7% of the vote, 56 deputies and 26 senators, it became the fourth largest party of the country and within Parliament. In 1993 Marco Formentini, a left-wing leghista, was elected mayor of Milan, the party won 49.3% in the provincial election of Varese and, by the end of the year, before Silvio Berlusconi launched his own political career and party, it was polled around 16–18% in electoral surveys (half of that support was later siphoned by Berlusconi).
First alliance with Berlusconi
In early 1994, some days before the announcement of the Bossi–Berlusconi pact which led to the formation of the Pole of Freedoms, Roberto Maroni, Bossi's number two, signed an agreement with Mario Segni's centrist Pact for Italy, which was later cancelled.
The party thus fought the 1994 general election in alliance with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party within the Pole of Freedoms coalition. Lega Nord gained just 8.4% of the vote, but, thanks to a generous division of candidacies in northern single-seats constituencies, its parliamentary representation was almost doubled to 117 deputies and 56 senators. The post of President Chamber of Deputies was thus given to a leghista, Irene Pivetti, a young woman hailing from the Catholic faction of the party.
After the election, the League joined FI, National Alliance (AN) and the Christian Democratic Centre (CCD) to form a coalition government under Berlusconi and the party obtained five ministries in Berlusconi's first cabinet: Interior for Roberto Maroni (who was also Deputy Prime Minister), Budget for Giancarlo Pagliarini, Industry for Vito Gnutti, European affairs for Domenico Comino and Institutional Reforms for Francesco Speroni. However, the alliance with Berlusconi and the government itself were both short-lived: the latter collapsed before the end of the year, with the League being instrumental in its demise.
When, in December, Bossi finally decided to withdraw from the government over a controversial pension reform, Maroni vocally disagreed and walked out. In January 1995 the League gave a vote of confidence to the newly formed cabinet led by Lamberto Dini, alongside with the Italian People's Party and the Democratic Party of the Left. This caused several splinter groups to leave the party, including the Federalist Party (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 FI, while a few other MPs, including Pierluigi Petrini, floor leader in the Chamber of Deputies, joined the centre-left. By 1996 total of 40 deputies and 17 senators had left the party, while Maroni, after months of coldness with Bossi, had instead returned to the party's fold.
After a huge success at the 1996 general election, its best result ever (10.1%, 59 deputies and 27 senators), Lega Nord announced that it wanted the secession of northern Italy under the name of Padania. The party gave to the expression, previously referring to the Padan Plain, a broader meaning that has steadily gained currency, at least among its followers. The party even organised a referendum on independence and elections for a "Padanian Parliament" (see below).
The years between 1996 and 1998 were particularly good for the League, which was the largest party in many provinces of northern Italy and was able to win in single-seat constituencies and provincial elections by running alone against both the centre-right and the centre-left.
However, after the 1996 election, which Lega Nord had fought outside the two big coalitions, the differences between those who supported a new alliance with Berlusconi (Vito Gnutti, Domenico Comino, Fabrizio Comencini, etc.) and those who preferred to enter Romano Prodi's Olive Tree (Marco Formentini, Irene Pivetti, etc.) re-emerged. A total of 15 deputies and 9 senators left the party to join either centre-right or centre-left parties. Pivetti left a few months after the election. Comencini left in 1998 to launch Liga Veneta Repubblica with the mid-term goal of joining forces with FI in Veneto. Gnutti and Comino were expelled in 1999, after they had formed local alliances with the centre-right. Also Formentini left in 1999 in order to join Prodi's Democrats.
As a result, the party suffered a huge setback at the 1999 European Parliament election, in which it garnered a mere 4.5% of the vote. Since then the League de-emphasised demands for independence in order to rather focus on devolution and federal reform, paving the way for a return to coalition politics.
House of Freedoms
After the defeat at the 1999 European Parliament election, senior members of the party thought it was not possible to achieve anything if the party continued to stay outside the two big coalitions. Some, including Maroni, who, despite 1994–1995 row with Bossi, had always been left-leaning in the heart, preferred an alliance with the centre-left. Bossi asked Maroni to negotiate an agreement with Massimo D'Alema, who had described Lega Nord as "a rib of the left". These talks were successful and Maroni was indicated as the joint candidate for President of Lombardy for the 2000 regional election. Despite this, Bossi decided instead to reproach Berlusconi, who was the front-runner in the upcoming 2001 general election. The centre-right coalition won the 2000 regional elections and the League entered the regional governments of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Liguria.
One year later, Lega Nord was part of Berlusconi's House of Freedoms in the 2001 general election. The coalition won handily the election, but the party was further reduced to 3.9%, while being returned in Parliament thanks to the victories scored by Leghisti in single-seat constituencies. In 2001–2006, although severely reduced in its parliamentary representation, the party controlled three key ministries: Justice with Roberto Castelli, Labour and Social affairs with Roberto Maroni, and Institutional Reforms and Devolution with Umberto Bossi (replaced by Roberto Calderoli in June 2004). In March 2004 Bossi suffered a stroke that led many to question over the party's survival, but that ultimately confirmed Lega Nord's strength. The party was widely considered the staunchest ally of Berlusconi and formed the so-called "axis of the North" along with FI, opposed to the axis formed by AN and the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), which were stronger in the South and generally represented southern interests.
During the five years in government with the centre-right, the Parliament passed 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 (MpA) and the Sardinian Action Party (PSd'Az) for the 2006 general election was not successful in convincing southern voters to approve the reform, which was rejected in the 2006 constitutional referendum.
Fourth Berlusconi government
In the aftermath of the fall of Romano Prodi's government in January 2008, which led President Giorgio Napolitano to call an early election, the centre-right was re-organised by Berlusconi as The People of Freedom (PdL), now without the support of the UDC. Lega Nord ran the election in coalition with the PdL and the MpA, gaining a stunning 8.3% of the vote (+4.2%) and obtaining 60 deputies (+37) and 26 senators (+13).
Following this result, since May 2008 Lega Nord was represented in Berlusconi's fourth 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).
In April 2009 a bill introducing a path towards fiscal federalism was approved by the Senate, after having passed by the Chamber. The bill gained bipartisan support by Italy of Values, that voted in favour, and the Democratic Party, that chose not to oppose the measure. As of late March 2011 all the most important decrees of the reform were approved by the Parliament and Bossi publicly praised the Democrats' leader Pier Luigi Bersani for not having opposed the decisive decree on regional and provincial fiscality. Lega Nord influenced the government also on illegal immigration, especially when dealing with immigrants coming from the sea. While the UNCHR and Catholic bishops expressed some concerns over the handling of asylum seekers, Maroni's decision to send back to Libya the boats full of illegal immigrants was praised also by some leading Democrats, notably including Piero Fassino, and was backed by some 76% of Italians according to a poll.
In agreement with the PdL, in the 2010 regional elections, Luca Zaia was candidate for President in Veneto and Roberto Cota in Piedmont, while in the other northern regions, including Lombardy, the League supported candidates of the PdL. Both Zaia and Cota were elected. The party became the largest in Veneto with 35.2% and the second-largest in Lombardy with 26.2%, while getting stronger all around the North and in some regions of central Italy.
Maroni vs. "magic circle"
Throughout 2011 the party was riven in internal disputes, which Bossi's weak-as-ever leadership was not able to stop. Roberto Maroni, a moderate figure who had been the party's number two since the start, was clearly Bossi's most likely successor, due to his political history (he had been a close associate of Bossi since 1979, before Lega Lombarda was formed) and the support he received among grassroots. The rise of Maroni and his fellow Maroniani was obstacled by a group of Bossi's loyalists, whom journalists called the "magic circle". One of the leaders of this group was Marco Reguzzoni, floor leader in the Chamber of Deputies.
On 13 January 2012 the dispute went so far that the executive of Lega Lombarda, ironically led by Giancarlo Giorgetti, a maroniano, forbade Maroni from speaking at public meetings organised by the party. Maroni protested vehemently and, in a few hours, hundreds of local sections invited him to speak in their towns, ignoring the diktat. The reaction of the party's base was so strong that Bossi revoked the decision, told Maroni that there had been a "misunderstanding" and blamed "muddle-headed intermediates".
On 17 January, thousands of people participated to a factional rally in Varese. At the presence of Bossi, Maroni launched direct attacks on Reguzzoni and Rosi Mauro, who were considered by many the inspirers of the diktat, called for the celebration of party congresses and closed his speech paraphrasing Scipio Slataper and Che Guevara (the latter being one of his youth's heroes): "We are barbarians, dreaming barbarians. We are realistic, we dream the impossible". On 20 January Bossi replaced Reguzzoni as leader in the Chamber with Gianpaolo Dozzo. Two days later the federal council of the party scheduled provincial congresses by April and national (regional) congresses by June. Maroni, whose flock included people as diverse as Flavio Tosi, a conservative liberal, and Matteo Salvini, a left-winger, strengthened his grip on the party.
Umberto Bossi's demise
On 3 April 2012 a corruption scandal hit the magic circle and, consequently, the whole League. Francesco Belsito, party's treasurer and close associate of Bossi, was charged of money-laundering, embezzlement and fraud at the expenses of the League. Among other things, he was accused of having taken money away from the party's chest and paid it out to Bossi's family and other members of the magic circle, notably including Rosi Mauro. Maroni, who had already called for Belsito's resignation as early as in January, asked for his immediate replacement. Belsito resigned a few hours later and the day after was replaced by Stefano Stefani.
More shockingly, on 5 April, Bossi resigned from federal secretary and the party's federal council appointed a triumvirate composed of Maroni, Calderoli and Manuela Dal Lago, who would lead the party until a new federal congress was held. Bossi was however elected federal president.
On 12 April the federal council expelled both Belsito and Mauro, and decided that a federal congress would be held at the end of June.
At the beginning of June, after having secured the leadership of several national sections of the party, Maroni and his followers scored two big victories at the congresses of the two largest "nations", Lombardy and Veneto: Matteo Salvini was elected secretary of Lega Lombarda with 74% of the votes, while Flavio Tosi fended off a challenge by the Venetists' and Bossi's loyalists' standard-bearer Massimo Bitonci, defeating him 57%–43%.
Leadership of Roberto Maroni
On 1 July 2012 Maroni was almost unanimously elected federal secretary. The party's constitution was changed in order to make Bossi federal president for life, to restructure the federal organization and to give more autonomy to the national sections, in fact transforming the federation into a confederation.
At the 2013 general election, which saw the rise of the Five Star Movement, the League won a mere 4.1% of the vote (–4.2% from 2008). However, in the simultaneous Lombard regional election, the party won the big prize: Maroni was elected President, by defeating his Democratic opponent 42.8% to 38.2%. The League, which obtained 12.9% in Lombardy in the general election, garnered 23.2% (combined result of party list, 13.0%, and Maroni's personal list, 10.2%) in the regional election. All three big regions of the North were thus governed by the League.
In September 2013 Maroni announced he would soon leave the party's leadership. A congress was scheduled for mid December and, in accordance to the new rules set for the leadership election, five candidates filed their bid to become secretary: Umberto Bossi, Matteo Salvini, Giacomo Stucchi, Manes Bernardini and Roberto Stefanazzi. Of these, only Bossi and Salvini gathered the 1,000 necessary signatures by party members to take part to the internal "primary", and Salvini collected four times the signatures gathered by Bossi.
Leadership of Matteo Salvini
Under Salvini, the party embraced a very critical view of the European Union, especially of the Euro, which he described a "crime against mankind". Ahead of 2014 European Parliament election, Salvini started to cooperate with Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom. All this was criticised by Bossi, who re-called his left-wing roots, and Tosi, who represented the party's centrist wing and defended the Euro.
In April 2014 Salvini presented the party's logo for the EP election, with Basta Euro ("No more Euro") replacing Padania, to emphasize the new political trend, focused on Euroscepticism and the exit from the Eurozone. The party included in its slates candidates from other anti-Euro and/or autonomist movements (hence Autonomie, meanining "Autonomies"), notably comprising The Freedomites, a right-wing populist and separatist party active in South Tyrol (whose symbol was included too).
In the EP election the party obtained 6.2% of the vote and 5 MEPs. The result was far worse than that of the previous EP election in 2009 (–4.0%), but better than that of 2013 general election (+2.1%). The LN arrived third with 15.2% in Veneto (where Tosi obtained many more votes than Salvini, showing his popular support once for all and proving how the party was far from united on the anti-Euro stance), ahead of Forza Italia and the other parties emerged from the defunct PdL, and fourth in Lombardy with 14.6%. Salvini was triumphant, despite the party had been reduced to 7.6% in Piedmont and lost the region to the Democrats, after Cota had been forced to resign, due to irregularities committed by one of its supporting lists in filing the slates for the 2010 regional election, and had decided not to stant for re-election. Moreover, Bitonci was elected mayor of Padua, a Democratic stronghold, by defeating incumbent Ivo Rossi; consequently, the party governed two of the three largest cities in Veneto.
The party's ideology is a combination of political federalism, fiscal federalism, regionalism and defense of Northern Italian traditions. The historical goal of the party is to transform Italy into a federal state, letting Padania keep more tax revenues collected there under a regime of fiscal federalism. Thus, through Lega Nord, federalism has become a major issue in the country. This is also the main difference between the League and most European regionalist parties (South Tyrolean People's Party, Basque Nationalist Party, Republican Left of Catalonia, Scottish National Party, Vlaams Belang, etc.), which focus on special rights for their own regions.
Sometimes it seemed possible that the League might also unite with similar leagues in central and southern Italy, but it did not succeed in doing so. The party continues dialogue with regionalist parties throughout Italy, notably the South Tyrolean People's Party, the Valdostan Union, the Trentino Tyrolean Autonomist Party, the Movement for Autonomy and the Sardinian Action Party, and has some figures from the South in its parliamentary ranks. Notably, Angela Maraventano, former deputy mayor of Lampedusa, has been a senator of Lega Nord. Although it is no more a member of the European Free Alliance, the party has ties with many regionalist parties around Europe, including left-wing parties such as the Republican Left of Catalonia. Lega Nord has some ties also with the Swiss Ticino League.
Lega Nord's political culture is a mix of Northern Italian pride, resentment for some Southern Italian habits and Roman authorities, distrust of Italy and especially its flag, some support for the free market, anti-statism, independentism, and claims of a Celtic heritage. The party boasts historical references to the anti-imperialist Lombard League and to Alberto da Giussano (stylized in the symbol), the hero of the wars against Frederick I Barbarossa. These historical references are the base for the party's anti-monopolism and anti-centralism.
The original program of the party identified "federalist libertarianism" as ideology. In fact the party has often varied its tone and policies, replacing its original libertarianism and social liberalism with a more socially conservative approach, alterning anti-clericalism with a pro-Catholic Church stance, Europeanism with a marked Euroscepticism, and abandoning its original pacifism and uncompromising ecologism. In 2008 Bossi 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 does not 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 Fascist squads in 1925, and remembered his anti-fascist and left-wing roots.
Lega Nord aims at uniting all those northern Italians who support autonomy and federalism for their land. For this reason it has tended to be a multi-ideological catch-all party, especially at its beginnings, following what Umberto Bossi stated in 1982 to his early followers: "It does not matter how old are you, what your job is and what your political tendency: what matters is that you and we are all Lombard. [...] It is as Lombards, indeed, that we have a fundamental common goal in face of which our division in parties should fall behind". Writes Roberto Biorcio, a political scientist: "The political commitment of Umberto Bossi was influenced by his encounter with Bruno Salvadori, leader of the Valdostan Union [...]. The convictions of Salvadori on federalism, the self-determination of the peoples (the so-called nations without state) and the belonging to a people on the basis of cultural criteria and not on blood, were adopted by the future leader of the League".
Since the beginning the electorate of the party has been very diverse on a left-right scale. At the 1992 general election, for instance, 25.4% of the party supporters were former Christian Democratic voters, 18.5% Communists, 12.5% Socialists and 6.6% former voters of the post-fascist Italian Social Movement.
It is quite 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 positions, such as the defense of workers' 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.
Generally speaking, the party supports the social market economy and other typical issues of Christian-democratic parties, and has been described as a "neo-labour party" by some commentators and also by some of its members. 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 not to permit freemasons to join), fighting against the "vested interests", once identified by Bossi in "Agnelli, the Pope and the Mafia". The party is also libertarian-populist in its promotion of small ownership, small and medium-sized enterprise, small government as opposed to governmental bureaucracy, waste of public funds, pork barrel spending and corruption. These are the main reasons why the party is strong in the North, despite being obscured (especially at the beginning of its history) and badly presented by national media, television and newspapers. According to a number of scholars, Lega Nord is an example of a right-wing populist, radical right, or extreme right-wing party, while some see significant differences to typical European radical right-wing populist parties, or reject the label of radical right as inadequate to describe the party's ideology.
Platform and policies
The party usually takes a socially conservative stance on social issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, medical embryonic stem cell research, artificial insemination, same-sex marriage (although there is an association called Los Padania, where "Los" stands for "free sexual orientation", linked to the party and Lega Nord was once in favour of same-sex marriage) and drug use (although it did once support the legalization of marijuana along with Marco Pannella's Radicals). Despite this the party has been home to some social liberals: Giancarlo Pagliarini, Rossana Boldi, Giovanna Bianchi Clerici and, to some extent, Roberto Castelli.
Lega Nord opposes statism, supports lower taxes, especially for families and small entrepreneurs and more recently in the form a flat tax, and a stop to the flow of public money in help to big businesses facing crisis, as for FIAT and Alitalia. Other key policies include direct election of prosecutors, as well as a regionalised judiciary and Constitutional Court.
The party, in its political programme, is committed to the environment, supporting public green areas, the establishment of natural parks, recycling, and the end (or regulation) of the construction of sheds in country areas, especially in Veneto. Lega Nord, which has a strong agricultural wing, also supports the protection of traditional food, opposes GMOs and has campaigned for a revision of the quota system of the Common Agricultural Policy.
In foreign policy, the League 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 Milošević during that war. However, after the September 11 attacks and the emergence of Islamic terrorism, the League became a supporter of the American efforts in the War on Terror, while expressing several reservations about American policy on Iraq. The League is also a staunch supporter of Israel. In 2011 the party was severely opposed to the Italian participation in the war in Libya, while in 2014 it opposed the sactions on Russia, a key economic partner of Lombard and Venetian entrepreneurs and a likely ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Through the Associazione Umanitaria Padana, Lega Nord participates in humanitarian projects which are intended to respect local cultures, traditions, and identities. The campaigns are carried out in poor countries or in those that have suffered from war or natural catastrophes. Locations of missions include Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ivory Coast. The association is led by Sara Fumagalli, wife of Roberto Castelli and born-again Catholic after a pilgrimage in Medjugorje.
Federalist or separatist?
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 it appeared to be requesting only 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 separatism, calling for the independence of Padania. As a symbolic act of birth of the new nation, on 13 September 1996 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 two days later. A voluntary group of militants, the "Green Volunteers", often referred as "green shirts" (green being the colour of Padania), was also established.
The renewed alliance with Berlusconi in 2001 forced the party to tone down its separatists spirits and Padania became the name of a proposed "macro-region", going back to the ideas by Miglio: an Italian federal republic, divided into three "macro-regions" ("Padania", "Etruria" and the "South") and some autonomous regions. A new buzzword, devolution (often used in English), was also introduced, but with less success than "federalism". This tactical evolution caused some criticism within party ranks 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 has long been the transformation of Italy into a federal state instead of simply demanding special rights and autonomy for northern regions.
Eurosceptic or Europeanist?
Lega Nord often criticises the European Union (it was the only party in the Italian Parliament, along with the Communist Refoundation Party, to vote against the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, but voted in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon) and opposes what it calls the "European superstate", favoring instead a "Europe of the Regions". Especially under the leadership of Matteo Salvini and the influence of professor Claudio Borghi, the party has proposed the abandonment of the Euro by Italy, although this has been opposed by some party heavyweights, notably including Flavio Tosi.
However, according to Roberto Maroni, the party is not Eurosceptic and stands for a "new Europeanism". In a public speech in 2012 he said to party activists: "We should start looking at Padania in a northern, European perspective. [...] The project of Padania is not anti-European, this is a new Europeanism which looks at the future: a Europe of the regions, a Europe of the peoples, a truly federal Europe." Moreover, the party supports direct elect of the President of the European Commission, more powers for the European Parliament, acceleration of the four unions (political, economic, banking and fiscal), Eurobonds and project bonds, the European Central Bank as lender of last resort, and the "centrality of Italy in European politics".
The party takes a tough 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". Because of this, the party has been labeled as "xenophobic" and "anti-immigrant". In 1992 the League was compared by Le Nouvel Observateur to some national populist parties of the European far-right, including Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front, Jörg Haider's Freedom Party of Austria and the Vlaams Blok: "the League rejects any association with neo-fascists but plays on themes of xenophobia regionalism and trivial racism".
In 2002 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) first denounced the party: "members of Lega Nord made a particularly intense use of racist and xenophobic propaganda, although it should be noted that even members of other parties used a xenophobic or otherwise intolerant political talk." In 2006 the ECRI noticed that "some members of Lega Nord have intensified the use of racist and xenophobic political talk." While noting that those expressing themselvers this way "were mostly local representatives of this party, also some important political leaders of the party at the national level issued racist and xenophobic statements. These talks continued to target mainly non-EU immigrants, but also other members of minority groups such as Roma and Sinti." ECRI also recalled that "in December 2004, the court of first instance of Verona found six local representatives of Lega Nord guilty of incitement to racial hatred, in connection with a campaign aimed at ousting a group of Sinti from a temporary camp in the local territory." However in 2007 the Court of Cassation cancelled the sentence.
Although several of its members tend to speak strongly against illegal immigrants (in 2003 Bossi suggested opening fire on the boats of illegal immigrants from Africa, whom he described as bingo-bongos, and Giancarlo Gentilini labeled foreigners as "immigrant slackers", saying "we should dress them up like hares and bang-bang-bang", the party's official line is more moderate. In a 2010 interview after some riots in Milan between South American and North African immigrants, Maroni, then minister of the Interior, stated that "the police state is not the solution" to integration problems and, calling for a "new model of integration", he maintained that "we should think that, other than a permit of stay, a job and a house, there are further conditions that today are missing for integration to succeed". Bossi soon endorsed Maroni's position.
Lega Nord rejects all charges of xenophobia, instead claiming that the North is the victim of discrimination and racism. After more than 15 years of government by Lega Nord, the Province of Treviso is widely considered the place in Italy where immigrants are best integrated. Similar things can be said about the city of Verona, governed by Flavio Tosi, who evolved from being a hardliner to be one of the most popular mayors of Italy. Moreover the first and only, so far, black mayor in Italy belongs to the League: Sandy Cane (whose mother is Italian and father is an African American) was elected mayor in Viggiù in 2009. In an interview with The Independent, Cane said that the League does not include racist or xenophobic members. More recently, Hajer Fezzani, a Tunisian-born lapsed Muslim, was appointed local coordinator in Malnate, Souad Sbai, president of the association "Moroccan women in Italy" and former deputy of The People of Freedom, joined the party, and, most notably, Tony Iwobi, a Nigerian-born long-time party member, was appointed at the head of the party's department on immigration ("Tony will do more for legal immigrants in a month than what Kyenge has done in an entire life", Salvini said during the press conference).
Lega Nord was originally a member of the European Free Alliance (EFA) and its first two MEPs, Francesco Speroni and Luigi Moretti, joined the Rainbow Group in the European Parliament during the fourth parliamentary term (1989–1994). Between 1994 and 1997 it was a member of the Group of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) and one MEP of Lega Nord, Raimondo Fassa, continued to sit in the ELDR group until 1999. During the sixth parliamentary term (1999–2004), it was briefly a component of the Technical Group of Independents (TGI) along with Italian Radicals and then returned to the Non-Inscrits.
Following the 2004 European election Lega Nord joined the Independence/Democracy (I/D) group and later the Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), a seemingly awkward affiliation for a party proposing a "Europe of the Regions"—but in the Lega Nord's view, a state's "regions" are populated by "nations" such as the Catalans or the Lombards. The party was affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe until 2006, when its members joined the European Democrat Group (EDG), a diverse group stretching from the Conservative Party (UK) to United Russia.
Although there are almost no official factions within the party, it is possible to distinguish several tendencies or wings.
The wing from the province of Varese and, more broadly, the bulk of the original Lega Lombarda (including Umberto Bossi, Roberto Maroni and Marco Formentini) has tended to be the left-wing of the party, while that from the province of Bergamo (notably Roberto Calderoli) has tended to be more conservative. In fact both Bossi and Maroni hailed from the far-left of the political spectrum, having been active in the Italian Communist Party, il manifesto movement, the Party of Proletarian Unity, Proletarian Democracy and the Greens before starting Lega Lombarda, and conceived Lega Nord as a centre-left (and, to some extent, social-democratic) political force. From the left came also Marco Formentini, a long-time member of the left-wing of the Italian Socialist Party, and Rosi Mauro, a trade unionist of the metal workers' section of the Italian Labour Union and, later, leader of the Padanian Trade Union (SinPa).
Since its foundation, Liga Veneta was instead characterised as a liberal, centrist and economically libertarian outfit, due to the political upbringing of its early leaders and a more conservative electoral base. In the early 1990s, the League stole votes especially from the Communists and the Socialists in western and central Lombardy, while the party electorally replaced Christian Democracy in eastern Lombardy and Veneto.
In fact, also Lega Lombarda included liberal-conservative figures, such as Gianfranco Miglio and Vito Gnutti, both former Christian Democrats, while Giovanni Meo Zilio, a Socialist partisan during the Italian Resistance, was one of the founding fathers of Liga Veneta.
However, with the passing of time, the party underwent a process of homogenisation.
Between Maroni and Calderoli, there has been a liberal-centrist wing including Roberto Castelli, a conspicuous group of former Liberals (Manuela Dal Lago, Daniele Molgora, Francesco Speroni, etc.) and a new generation of Leghisti (Roberto Cota, Giancarlo Giorgetti, Marco Reguzzoni, Luca Zaia, etc.).
During the years in government in Rome (2001–2006) in the party there were different viewpoints on coalitions: some, led by Calderoli and Castelli (with the backing of Bossi), vigorously supported the alliance with the centre-right, while others, represented by Maroni and Giorgetti, were less warm about it. Some of them spoke about 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 into a federal state.
Similar differences emerged during (and within) Berlusconi's fourth government (2008–2011). While Calderoli was again a keen supporter of the arrangement, Maroni was far less warm on Berlusconi and, at times, evoked an alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party. Calderoli's line had the backing of Federico Bricolo, Cota, Reguzzoni and, chiefly, Bossi, while Maroni was backed by Giorgetti, Speroni, Zaia and Tosi. However, the alliance with the centre-right continued at the regional/local level (Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, municipalities, etc.) also after 2011.
Since Salvini's rise to leadership in 2013, the party has shown quite a high internal unity, despite the usual regional and ideological divides and, especially, that between Salvini and Tosi: the former displays a more populist attitude, strongly opposes the Euro and nominally supports separatism, while the latter is a more centrist figure, supports European integration, is not a fan of independence and has unveiled a liberal program for his likely run in a putative centre-right prime-ministerial primary election. As leader of Liga Veneta, Tosi is confronted by the Venetist and separatist wings of the regional party, having in Zaia and Massimo Bitonci its leading members (see Liga Veneta#Factions).
The League is home also to some issue-oriented groups. First, there is a group of Christian democrats, most of whom are affiliated to the Padanian Catholics, founded by late Roberto Ronchi and currently led by Giuseppe Leoni. Another leading Catholic is Massimo Polledri. In fact many Leghisti are committed to Catholic social teaching and the social market economy, and several party members are former members or voters of Christian Democracy.
Then, there is a right-wing which is represented mainly by Mario Borghezio, a former Monarchist who is the leader of Christian Padania, which is a key advocate of social conservatism within party ranks and has some links with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.
Third and fourth, the party has always included also a group of libertarians, whose leading members Leonardo Facco, Gilberto Oneto and Giancarlo Pagliarini have since left the party, and an Independentist Unit. The independentist wing crosses all the other factions and tendencies and in fact includes, among others, Borghezio and Francesco Speroni. Also Oneto, father of Padanian nationalism, and Pagliarini were close to this group.
Finally, the party is home to an agricultural wing, which is particularly strong in southern Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, and is represented by the Cobas del latte, a farmers' trade union, the "Land Movement", whose leader was Giovanni Robusti, and politicians such as Luca Zaia, a former Minister of Agriculture, Fabio Rainieri, one of the leader of Lega Nord Emilia, and Erminio Boso, a historic and now marginal figure from Trentino.
1997 Padanian elections
In October 1997 Lega Nord organised what it called "the first elections to the Padanian Parliament". Roughly 4 million northern Italians (6 million according to the party) went to the polls and chose between a number of Padanian parties. This is a short resume of the affiliations of leading party members:
- Marco Formentini, Giovanni Meo Zilio, Roberto Bernardelli, Franco Colleoni and Mariella Mazzetto, with the support of Roberto Maroni, launched the Europeanist and social-democratic European Democrats – Padanian Labour (52 seats out of 210);
- Vito Gnutti, Giancarlo Pagliarini, Domenico Comino, Roberto Cota and Massimo Zanello led the liberal-conservative Liberal Democrats – Forza Padania (50);
- Oreste Rossi, Enzo Flego and Walter Gherardini formed the national-conservative Padanian Right (27);
- Roberto Ronchi and Giuseppe Leoni founded the Christian-democratic Padanian Catholics (20);
- a group of Venetian Leghisti formed the Venetist Padanian Lions (14);
- Leonardo Facco, Leopoldo Siegel and Marco Pottino launched Libertarian and Liberal Padania (12);
- Matteo Salvini and Mauro Manfredini were candidates of the Padanian Communists (5);
- Erminio Boso led the agrarian-conservative Padanian Union – Agriculture, Environment, Hunting, Fishing (5);
- Benedetto Della Vedova, a Radical politician, was elected at the head of an anti-prohibitionist and free-market libertarian list in Milan, while Nando Dalla Chiesa, a Green MP, was an unsuccessful candidate in Milan too.
Since 2008, besides the traditional regional divides, the party was increasingly divided among three groups. The first was the so-called "magic circle", that was to say Bossi's inner circle, notably including Marco Reguzzoni, Rosi Mauro and Federico Bricolo. The second was formed around Roberto Calderoli, who was the powerful coordinator of Lega Nord's national secretariats and had among his closest supporters Giacomo Stucchi and Davide Boni. The third one was led by Roberto Maroni, who tended to be more independent from Bossi and was somewhat critical of the centre-right affiliation of the party, and included Giancarlo Giorgetti, Attilio Fontana, Matteo Salvini and Flavio Tosi. Gian Paolo Gobbo and Luca Zaia, leaders of the party in Veneto, although very loyal to Bossi, tended to be independent from "federal" factions and were engaged in a long power struggle with Flavio Tosi (see Factions of Liga Veneta). Indeed Corriere della Sera identified four main groups: the magic circle, Maroniani, Calderoliani and "Venetians" (or, better, Venetists), leaving aside the core independentists (see below). Roberto Cota, leader of Lega Nord Piemont, the third largest "national" section of Lega Nord, was very close to Bossi and was part of the magic circle, but, since his election as President of Piedmont, he became more independent. Equidistant from the main factions were also Roberto Castelli and Francesco Speroni.
By 2011 Maroniani clearly became the strongest faction within the party and Maroni, who was acclaimed at the traditional rally in Pontida in June, became Bossi's obvious successor. Maroniani commanded wide support among rank-and-file members and were well represented in all regions, notably including Veneto, where Tosi, despite being a conservative liberal, was loyal to Maroni. Maroni and Calderoli, who had been on opposite sides for years, joined forces against the magic circle and its influence on Bossi. After Pontida 2011, Mauro and Reguzzoni tried to convince Bossi to remove Giorgetti from the leadership of Lega Lombarda, but this move was strongly opposed by Maroni and Calderoli, who were supported in this also by Cota and most Venetians. The attempted "coup d'etat" produced an umparalleled backclash against the magic circle: 49 deputies out of 59 wanted to replace Reguzzoni as floor leader in the Chamber of Deputies with Giacomo Stucchi, but Bossi imposed the status quo.
After earning resounding victories in the provincial congresses of Verona, Belluno and oriental Veneto during the first half of 2011, Maroniani (with the support of Calderoliani) went on to win also in Brescia and Val Camonica, defeating the candidates of the magic circle by landslides. In October, fearing a remake in Varese, his homeprovince, Bossi imposed his candidate, who was declared elected without a vote. In the event, Bossi was openly contested by many delegates at the congress. In fact, there had been an open vote, Maroniani would have prevailed. These party infightings ended with Bossi's demise in February 2012 (see above).
Support for Lega Nord is diverse even within Padania and has varied over time, reaching a maximum of 10.1% of the vote at the 1996 general election (around 25% north of the Po River). That year, the League scored 29.3% of the vote in Veneto, 25.5% in Lombardy, 23.2% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 18.2% in Piedmont, 13.2% in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, 10.2% in Liguria, 7.2% in Emilia-Romagna, 1.8% in Tuscany, 1.5% in the Marche, and 1.0% in Umbria. The party got 59 deputies and 27 senators (39 and 19, respectively, in single-seat constituencies), helping the centre-left to win, due to its victories in some northern constituencies characterised by three-way races. The League won barely all the seats in the provinces of the so-called Pedemontana, the area at the feet of the Prealps, from Udine to Cuneo, encompassing Friuli, Veneto, Trentino, Lombardy and Piedmont. Lega Nord is stronger in the areas of the late Republic of Venice and among Catholics.
At 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.
At the 2009 European Parliament election Lega Nord won 10.2% of the vote: 28.4% in Veneto, 22.7% in Lombardy, 17.5% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 15.7% in Piedmont, 9.9% in Trentino-Alto Adige, 11.1% in Emilia-Romagna, 9.9% in Liguria, 5.5% in the Marche, 4.3% in Tuscany, 3.6% in Umbria and other surprising results, such as 24.6% in Lampedusa, 5.1% in Ogliastra, Sardinia and 1.2% in Reggio Calabria.
At the 2010 regional elections gained 35.2% of the vote in Veneto, 26.2% in Lombardy, 16.7% in Piedmont, 13.7% in Emilia-Romagna, 10.2% in Liguria, 6.3% in the Marche, 6.5% in Tuscany and 4.3% in Umbria.
Electoral results by region
|Year||Aosta V.||Liguria||Piedmont||Lombardy||Veneto||Trentino||S. Tyrol||Friuli-VG||Emilia-R.||Tuscany||Marche||Umbria|
Party totals in general elections
|Chamber of Deputies|
|Election year||# of
| % of
overall seats won
|Senate of the Republic|
|Election year||# of
| % of
overall seats won
Party totals in EP elections
|Election year||# of
| % of
overall seats won
Party totals in regional elections
|Region||Election year||# of
| % of
overall seats won
|Aosta Valley||1993||6,176 (#4)||7.6||
|2003||with CdL||with CdL||
|2013||with SA||with SA||
|Friuli-Venezia Giulia||1993||212,497 (#1)||26.7||
|Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol||1993||50,210 (#4)||9.6||
- Padua (Vneto, 937,328 inhab.): Enoch Soranzo (independent)
- Treviso (Veneto, 887,625 inhab.): Leonardo Muraro
- Venice (Veneto, 858,026 inhab.): Francesca Zaccariotto (independent)
- Udine (Friuli-VG, 537,097 inhab.): Pietro Fontanini
Mayors (cities over 50,000 inhab.):
- Verona (Veneto, 260,347 inhab.): Flavio Tosi
- Padua (Veneto, 210,890 inhab.): Massimo Bitonci
- Varese (Lombardy, 80,903 inhab.): Attilio Fontana
- Vigevano (Lombardy, 63,396 inhab.): Andrea Sala
- Federal Secretary: Umberto Bossi (1989–2012), Roberto Maroni (2012–2013), Matteo Salvini (2013–present)
- Deputy Federal Secretary: Francesco Formenti (1992–1995), Francesco Speroni (1998–1999), Gianpaolo Dozzo (1998–1999), Mario Borghezio (1998–1999), Federico Caner (vicar, 2012–2013), Giacomo Stucchi (2012–2013), Elena Maccanti (2012–2013), Matteo Salvini (2013), Flavio Tosi (2013)
- Coordinator of Federal Secretariat / Legislative Office: Roberto Ronchi (1991–1994), Roberto Maroni (1994–2001), Francesco Speroni (2001–2005), Roberto Maroni (2005–2012), Giacomo Stucchi (2012–2013), Federico Bricolo (2013–present)
- Coordinator of National Sections / Organizational Secretary: Roberto Calderoli (2002–present)
- Federal President: Marilena Marin (1989–1991), Franco Rocchetta (1991–1994), Stefano Stefani (1995–2002), Luciano Gasperini (2002–2005), Angelo Alessandri (2005–2012), Umberto Bossi (2012–present)
- Federal Administrative Secretary / Administrator: Alessandro Patelli (1991–1993), Maurizio Balocchi (1993–2010), Francesco Belsito (2010–2012), Stefano Stefani (2012–2014), Giulio Centemero (2014–present)
- Honorary President: Luigi Rossi (1991–1996)
- Party Leader in the Chamber of Deputies: Marco Formentini (1992–1993), Roberto Maroni (1993–1994), Pierluigi Petrini (1994–1995), Vito Gnutti (1995–1996), Domenico Comino (1996–1999), Giancarlo Pagliarini (1999–2001), Alessandro Cè (2001–2005), Andrea Gibelli (2005–2006), Roberto Maroni (2006–2008), Roberto Cota (2008–2010), Marco Reguzzoni (2010–2012), Gianpaolo Dozzo (2012–2013), Giancarlo Giorgetti (2013–2014), Massimiliano Fedriga (2014–present)
- Party Leader in the Senate: Francesco Speroni (1992–1994), Francesco Tabladini (1994–1996), Francesco Speroni (1996–1999), Luciano Gasperini (1998–1999), Roberto Castelli (1999–2001), Francesco Moro (2001–2004), Ettore Pirovano (2004–2006), Roberto Castelli (2006–2008), Federico Bricolo (2008–2013), Massimo Bitonci (2013–2014), Gian Marco Centinaio (2014–present)
- Party Leader in the European Parliament: Francesco Speroni (1989–1992), Luigi Moretti (1992–1999), Francesco Speroni (1999–2004), Mario Borghezio (2004–2009), Francesco Speroni (2009–2012), Lorenzo Fontana (2012–2014), Matteo Salvini (2014–present)
Main national sections
- National Secretary: Achille Tramarin (1980−1983), Marilena Marin (1983−1984), Franco Rocchetta (1984−1985), Marilena Marin (1985−1994), Fabrizio Comencini (1994−1998), Gian Paolo Gobbo (1998−2012), Flavio Tosi (2012−present)
- National President: Franco Rocchetta (1991−1994), Gian Paolo Gobbo (1994−1998), Giuseppe Ceccato (1998–1999), Manuela Dal Lago (2001−2008), Flavio Tosi (2008−2012), Luca Baggio (2012−present)
- National Secretary: Umberto Bossi (1984–1993), Luigi Negri (1993–1995), Roberto Calderoli (1995–2002), Giancarlo Giorgetti (2002–2012), Matteo Salvini (2012–2014), Stefano Borghesi (federal commissioner, 2014–present)
- National President: Augusto Arizzi (1986–1987), Silvana Bazzan (1987–1989), Franco Castellazzi (1989–1991), Francesco Speroni (1991–1993), Roberto Calderoli (1993–1995), Giuseppe Leoni (1995–1999), Stefano Galli (1999–2002), Roberto Castelli (2002–2012), Giancarlo Giorgetti (2012–present)
- National Secretary: Gipo Farassino (1987–1997), Domenico Comino (1997–1999), Bernardino Bosio (1999–2001), Roberto Cota (2001–present)
- National President: Angelo Colli (1991–1992), Domenico Comino (1994–1997), Bernardino Bosio (1997–1999), Silvano Straneo (2000–2001), Oreste Rossi (2001–2004), Mario Borghezio (2004–2011), Gianna Gancia (2012–present)
- List of regional and minority parties in Europe
- List of active separatist movements in Europe
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