While Europe is busy dealing with Greece, there is another emergency that’s remained quietly unresolved over the past several decades. Mario Draghi called it (pdf, p.6, in Italian) “the largest and most populous backward territory of the Euro zone.” It’s southern Italy, called Mezzogiorno, where over 21 millions Italians live—over a third of the population—and are responsible for producing under a fourth of the country’s GDP. This area has historically been problematic in terms of its economy while the productive heart of the country lies in the north.
More than 25% of southern families report being in serious financial deprivation and more than half of the 6 millions Italians (link in Italian) who live in poverty are in the southern region. The south has been affected by the recession even worse than the rest of the country. This is all aggravated by the presence of several organized criminal groups: the Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, and Camorra whose strongholds in the south thrive on conditions of limited economic alternatives for the population.
The per capita GDP in the southern region is 45.8% lower (link in Italian) than the north:
Employment, too, is unequal—especially amongst women who, percentage-wise, are employed in the north nearly twice as much as in the south.
A similar situation is true of youth unemployment—while significantly high in Italy overall (44.9%), reaches 63.3% amongst women in the south.
Even as the economy in Italy is slowly recovering—2015 is expected to see GDP growth of an estimated 0.8% (link in Italian)—the situation of the Mezzogiorno remains dramatic. Prime minister Matteo Renzi has been accused of neglecting the weaker parts of Italy’s economy from the beginning of his mandate. There’s also a serious lack of representation of southern regions in his government, whose ministers mostly hail from northern and central Italy.
Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the leaders of the movement for the unification of Italy said in the mid-19th century: “Italy will be what its south will be,” as he believed that the issues of the Mezzogiorno would determine the future of the country. It appears that he was right.