Italy's north-south divide in one chart

Naples: poorer than the Czech Republic. Image: Pyrev via pixabay.

Britain isn't the only European country with a north-south divide to contend with. In contrast to blighty, however, in Italy it's the south that's falling behind. According to the Bank of Italy, GDP per person is more than 40 per cent lower in the Mezzogiorno than it is in the centre and north. To put that in context, it’s greater than the difference between the economies of the UK and South Korea.

Compare the country's biggest cities, in fact, and you'll find the disparity is even more extreme than that. This graph shows real GDP per capita at 2010 figures in selected cities since the turn of the century. Below we've also included a map showing their locations; the grey areas mark out southern Italy as defined by the European’s NUTS classification.

Real GDP per capita, $USD 2010. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

The thing that instantly leaps out at you is that Milan is, give or take, twice as rich as the cities of the south. The municipality accounts for just 2 per cent of Italy’s population, yet generates around 10 per cent of national GDP. It’s most famous for its fashion industry, but it’s also the country’s media, tech, and financial capital.

It is, in the most literal sense, where the money is. Consequently, while Rome was showing signs of stagnation as early as 2004, Milan’s GDP per capita was growing steadily right up until the credit crunch struck in 2008.

At the other end of the scale you'll find Naples and Palermo, the key cities of the south, where (in 2010 figures) GDP per capita has been struggling to get above $25,000 for nearly 15 years now. To translate that into comparable national economies once again, that means that, while Milan is richer than Sweden, Naples is poorer than the Czech Republic. And, unlike Palermo, Naples shows little sign of progressing.

This divide isn’t new – in fact, it’s been in place essentially since unification in 1861, a process led by the northern kingdom of Piedmont and the Nice-born revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi – but the recent recession certainly hasn’t helped. In 2012, Italy’s youth unemployment rate stood at 35 per cent, which is quite shocking enough. In Naples, however, it was 53 per cent, and last winter the city was reported to be flirting with bankruptcy. The Mezzogiornio is making a play to attract more tourists, helped by the government's growing attempts to crack down on the corruption and organised crime which have dominated the region’s economy. Closing the gap, however, won’t be easy.

Unsurprisingly, this economic chasm has led to calls for devolution or even separatism – but not perhaps from the direction one might imagine. The Lega Norda (Northern League) was created from the merger of a number of smaller local parties, and campaigns for a federal Italy, with greater fiscal autonomy for the regions. In other words, what it wants is to reduce the flow of money from rich northern taxpayers to poor southern governments.

At times the league has even advocated full independence for the north under the name of Padania. In last year's general election, however, it received just 4.0 per cent of the vote, down from 8.3 percent five years earlier. Independence may be some time coming.


The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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