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Welcome to the Mezzogiorno – Italy’s neglected south. How to promote a mass return of the region’s youth

    Cross-generation roundtable
    • Rome
    • 22 June 2016

          Aspen Institute Italia’s aim in organizing this roundtable was to spark debate on the current economic conditions and future development prospects of southern Italy, in the belief that it is essential for the issue of the country’s neglected South to be once again tackled as a key concern of national policy.

          It was observed that Italy’s Mezzogiorno (or South) is much more prosperous today than in the past, but still far short of closing in on the country’s Centre-North and Europe’s wealthiest areas – a divide which has recently begun to widen. While a third of Italy’s population lives in the South, only a quarter of those employed do, and although constituting a major manufacturing area, the South contributes only one-fifth of Italian gross domestic product and one-tenth of exports. Tourism represents an untapped potential yet to be adequately exploited, just as infrastructure facilities – including railways, ports, airports, and roads – suffer from a long history of underdevelopment and are not up to supporting a modern production system.

          With regards to higher education, it was noted that enrollments in southern Italian universities have steadily dropped in recent years, due in part to the emigration of high-school graduates to universities in the Center-North. Despite this, the South is rich in human resources, expertise, and outstanding institutions in certain fields of innovation which have managed to make a name for themselves both nationally and internationally. Even so, the participants bemoaned the lack of linkages between universities and industry. Lastly, it was highlighted that the area is also characterized by a general difficulty in doing business: firms in the South are still too local, both in the sense of being small in size and incapable of expanding into foreign markets.

          Nevertheless, it was conceded that the same economic and institutional conditions do not prevail throughout the South. Indeed, there is no single Mezzogiorno, since quite developed areas coexist with pockets of underdevelopment, the problems of coastal areas are not the same as those affecting the hinterland, and metropolitan areas present different potentialities and weaknesses than rural areas.

          The latest available data on the state of the economic health of Italy’s South was hailed as boding well: last year, GDP in the South grew by 1% compared to 0.7% for the rest of the country, while employment grew by 1.6%, which, in absolute terms, translates into 94 thousand more people in jobs. it was stressed, however, that this progress should not be left to go to waste but should instead be bolstered by adequate and coherent development policies.

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