The presidents of Italy's wealthy northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy on Sunday claimed victory in autonomy referendums that seek to grab additional powers and tax revenue from Rome, riding a global tide of self-determination that has swamped Spain's Catalonia region.
The votes were nonbinding, but the leaders of the neighboring regions hope to leverage strong turnout in talks with Italy's center-left government. As leading members of the anti-migrant, anti-EU Northern League, they want to keep more tax revenue and have autonomy over such policy areas as immigration, security, education and environment.
"This is the big bang of institutional reform," Veneto President Luca Zaia said in Venice. "We are convinced, and I hope Rome understands, that this is not the wish of a political party. These are the wishes of the people."
In Milan, his counterpart in Lombardy, Roberto Maroni, said that with the votes, the two regions "can unify our forces so we can do the battle of the century."
The two leaders say they will meet with their regional councils to finalize their requests before going to Rome to meet with Premier Paolo Gentiloni.
Unlike in Catalonia, the referendums do not seek independence and were approved by Italy's constitutional court. Still, the autonomy drive is a powerful threat to Rome's authority. Together, Veneto and Lombardy account for 30 percent of Italy's GDP and nearly one-quarter of the nation's electorate.
Maroni said an overwhelming 95 percent of his region's vote went to "yes," with turnout above 40 percent of Lombardy's 8 million voters. That far exceeded the bar for success that he set at 34 percent, which was the turnout for a national referendum on constitutional reform in 2001.
Independence-minded Veneto easily met a turnout threshold to validate the vote set by Zaia, with some 60 percent of the region's 4 million voters casting ballots. According to early returns, 98 percent voted "yes."