The future is in the regions. Soon the EU will be no more than a federation of them

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The Independent Online
When the Northern League announces the birth of Padania, a federation of northern Italian regions next Sunday, it will be the first, crucial, step down the road to a new-look European Union, a leading party official said yesterday.

Not content with plans to hive off eight of Italy's most productive northern regions - or 10, if you harken to those more ambitious supporters of the League who hope to drag the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria into the new state - the Northern League has set its sights on forging a federation of European regions. Roberto Maroni, chief of the Padania Liberation Community, said that that was the only way of diminishing the might of Germany.

Amid the hue and cry of its independence stunt, which will include three days of festivities along the banks of the Po in the run-up to the declaration of independence in Venice on Sunday, the League - led by Umberto Bossi - is emerging as the most pro-European party in an overwhelmingly pro- European country. Like many independence-minded parties, including the Scottish National Party, the League sees its independence within the context of a broader Europe.

"Already we're talking about a common defence policy, and the common foreign policy. A single currency is going to be a reality in a very few years' time," said Mr Maroni. "All those things which signify the sovereignty of a nation state are being moved under the control of Brussels. The point will come when diplomacy within the European Union will be anachronism: what's the point of an Italian ambassador in Paris when goods and people can move freely between Italy and France and enjoy the same rights and privileges in each country?"

Some minor adjustments would be needed to European legislation: "What kind of union is it if a crime committed in Ventimiglia [in north-west Italy] is treated differently from the same one committed just a few kilometres down the road in Menton [in the South of France]?" said Mr Maroni.

Then there are taxes, electrical plugs, third-country visa requirements, official statistics data-bank systems, and train fares. The list is endless. But the League is not giving up and Mr Maroni talked of a five- year transition period, during which even the "hopelessly undemocratic" EU institutions will be forced to see the folly of their way.

At this point, the League argument runs, nation states would lose their purpose. Mr Maroni said: "The centre has already lost touch with the edges. When the centre has no real function because so much of its power has devolved to Brussels, what use will government in Rome or Paris or London be?"

The future of Europe, the League says, lies in its regions: it will only be a question of years and the EU will be a federation of regions under the watchful eye of Brussels.

And in the vanguard of this change will be the Northern League, not forcing its ideas on the people, Mr Maroni stressed, but giving voice to the legitimate demands of the man in the street who until now has been unable to make himself heard.

A pity, then, that even with secession fever mounting in Padania, opinion polls in League strongholds do not show all that much support for the party's policies.

Two-thousand people in five regions where the Northern League is the strongest single party made no secret of where they stood when questioned by the Famiglia Cristiana weekly. Only 10.5 per cent favoured the League's separatist stance: not a huge amount of backing for a party which is out to change the face of Europe.