Italy is a country of immense beauty, rich in history, culture, and traditions. It is also a country with deep-seated economic disparities. The southern part of Italy, known as ‘Mezzogiorno’ has long been considered the most underdeveloped region in the country. The underdevelopment of the south is not a new problem; it has plagued the region for decades, and despite various government policies and initiatives, the situation remains largely unchanged.
The Mezzogiorno has been suffering from economic, social and political underdevelopment for many years, with significant disparities with the north, something that still persists nowadays (see Eckaus, 1961; A’Hearn, 2000; Martínez Carrión, 2005; Felice, 2011; Adamo, 2018).
This problem is not unique to Italy, as other south European countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece also face similar disparities and inequalities between their regions. In this essay, I will explore the root causes of the underdevelopment of southern Italy, examine the current situation in 2023, propose possible strategies to tackle this problem, and consider how these strategies can be expanded to other European countries facing similar crossroads.
The Mezzogiorno puzzle is a complex problem with various and diverse root causes. One of the primary causes is the lack of investment in infrastructure, including transportation, energy and communication. This has limited economic opportunities, making it difficult for businesses to thrive and for individuals, specially the youth, to find employment. Additionally, this region has been plagued by organised crime, which has hindered economic growth and deterred foreign investment.
Furthermore, the disparities between the north and south of Italy have been perpetuated for centuries, with the north being more industrialised and prosperous than the southern regions. This gap is reflected in the Gross Domestic Product, with the north being more than twice as prosperous as the south. Additionally, the education system in the Mezzogiorno has also been affected, with a lower percentage of students graduating than in the north, limiting employment opportunities and resulting in a brain drain.
In 2023, the situation in Southern Italy remains challenging and intense, with persistent regional underdevelopment and disparities between the north and the south. However, there have been some positive developments, including the creation of government agencies, such as Invitalia, designed to promote foreign investment and contribute to development in the south.
To tackle this persistent issue in the region, it is important to note that the south is not a uniformly underdeveloped area. In consequence, there needs to be a combination of effective short and long term strategies. One of the primary approaches is to invest in infrastructure, including transportation and energy. This will require a significant allocation of resources to improve, principally, the road network and sustainable energy supply. These investments will stimulate economic growth, create jobs and attract foreign investments.
Another critical strategy is to address the issue of organised crime in the region. This will require a coordinated effort by the government and law enforcement agencies to prosecute those involved in organised crime, dismantle criminal networks and promote a culture of transparency and government accountability. Additionally, the government needs to promote and ensure the rule of law, guaranteeing that justice is served, and creating a secure environment for business to operate there.
Having said this, the role of education will be vital in order to tackle the underdevelopment of these regions and improve the quality of life for citizens. The government, in alliance with the European Union, needs to invest in vocational training programs and provide incentives to students to continue their education at its highest levels. This will enable individuals to acquire the necessary skills for diverse industries, increasing employment opportunities, attracting new businesses and avoiding a massive brain drain in the region.
In terms of commerce, the government can incentivise businesses to invest in the south by offering tax incentives and subsidies. This will encourage companies to establish operations in the Mezzogiorno, creating jobs and promoting regional economic growth. The government can also provide funding for research and development in the region, creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
In expanding these strategies to other south European countries with similar problems, governments need to address the root causes of underdevelopment as interconnected and mutually influenced ones, such as infrastructure investment, education, green transition to energy, among others. Additionally, these strategies need to be tailored to the specific needs and adjusted to the specific context of each country.
Moreover, collaboration between European countries with similar problems can be mutually beneficial in order to tackle the issue of underdevelopment. The European Union could and should play an essential role in providing financial support, technical assistance sharing their best practices and coordinating efforts between countries.
Ultimately, the underdevelopment of southern Italy and other south European countries is a problem that requires coordinated efforts from governments, businesses, and individuals to create a more prosperous and equitable future for all.
In conclusion, the underdevelopment of southern Italy, and the disparities between the north and south, is a complex, multi-phased, and long-standing issue and is far from being over. A combination of strategies, including political accountability, infrastructure investment, addressing organised crime, improving the educational system, creation of business incentives and making a cultural mindset change in the south, are necessary and vital elements to be considered in order to achieve a more prosperous, developed and stable region in the Mezzogiorno, finding a definitive solution to the south crossroad.
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Berreta Sartini, I. (2023) The Mezzogiorno Crossroad: A European puzzle, IDRN, 18 May. Available at: https://idrn.eu/the-mezzogiorno-crossroad-a-european-puzzle/ [Accessed: dd/mm/yyyy].