Principality in principle – Italian town wants to go it alone

As Italian lawmakers continue to debate a 54-billion-euro austerity package, more and more people are losing faith in its efficacy. Some are even trying to introduce own currency to avoid economic woes.

Italy's much-disputed austerity package to slash the country's crippling debt will go through a final debate at the lower house of Parliament on Monday. It would increase taxes and cut government spending to balance the budget by 2013.

However, there is one town in Italy that has decided it does not want to wait for the cuts.

The town of Filettino in the middle of the country also claims to be an independent principality. To prove it, it has even started printing its own money – the “fiorito”.

The new banknotes are featuring the image of the town mayor Luca Sellari, who is now a self-proclaimed prince.

I guess everyone dreams of being a prince when they’re a little boy, and so did I. Now I get to live that dream,” he says.

Filettino is going solo in protest over government plans to slash council funding. Rome wants small towns to merge, halving the number of local authorities. With a population of just 600, Filettino and its mayor are for the chop.

It’s a terrible idea because it makes no economic sense. We have everything here to be autonomous, and besides, our neighboring towns are at least 30km away, so it’s not practically possible. It wouldn’t even save that much money. Most regional administrations do nothing, they should get rid of them instead,” Sellari claims.

The cuts are part of a 45-billion-euro austerity package. The country is in deep debt which amounts to 120 per cent of its GDP – the second highest in Europe.

The unions are furious with the cuts, accusing the government of punishing those already at their poorest. Even some of Silvio Berlusconi’s own allies now oppose them, with amendments piling up.

But Filettino is fed up. It is determined to be the next San Marino – a constitutional republic within Italy that has no national debt, which is a rare thing in Europe.

The mayor thinks the town can live off its natural resources of wood and water. But currently profits go to private companies. There are constitutional hurdles, but since autonomy is not illegal, it could be just a matter of time.

At the moment, Filettino’s currency is not legal tender, just souvenirs. But the plan is for two fioritos to be worth one euro, and for this to be the only currency that can be spent in the shops and restaurants here.

Business has always been slow in this sleepy town. But shop keepers hope the new money will bring new cash.

I’m sure that once we start using the new currency, the economic situation here will significantly improve. It’ll have a positive effect on tourism of course, attracting more people to the town,” says Paolo Cerrocchi, a shopkeeper.

Far from being a PR stunt, Filettino means business and Silvio Berlusconi knows it. He is visiting the town later this month to stave off the rebellion, but he will have a fight on his hands. Filettino is the source of Rome’s water supply and the mayor is threatening to cut if off if he does not get what he wants.