...Best of Sicily presents... Best of Sicily Magazine.
Tours and travel in Sicily.
... Dedicated to Sicilian art, culture, history, people, places and all things Sicilian.
Sicily as Autonomous Region
by Vincenzo Salerno

Magazine Index

Best of Sicily

Arts & Culture


Food & Wine

History & Society

About Us

Travel Faqs


Map of Sicily

Who runs Sicily?The Governor: Rosario Crocetta, a chemist by profession, speaks several languages, including English and Arabic, and was formerly a European MP and mayor of Gela, near Agrigento. Elected regional president in 2012, he has taken very strong positions against the Mafia and public-sector corruption (a predecessor was sentenced for white collar crime) while addressing problems like the budget deficit and the high unemployment rate. He is attempting to improve tourism facilities in Sicily.

Peoples of Sicily

Sicilian flag.What do Scotland, Bavaria, Catalonia and Sicily have in common? A number of things - all were parts of the Roman Empire and later sovereign kingdoms - but each of these places is now a semi-autonomous region within a larger nation, respectively Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy. It is a development which recognizes the distinct history of each region, and in Italy French-speaking Aosta and German-speaking South Tirol (Trentino - Alto Adige) enjoy the same status.

Unlike Aosta and South Tirol, Sicily was given its "regional" administrative status not by the Italian Republic following the Second World War but by the Kingdom of Italy in 1946. On 15 May of that year King Umberto II, whose brief reign would end a few weeks hence with the popular referendum establishing the Republic on 2 June, signed the decree on "the advice" of the Allied Military Command. In other words, the king was ordered to sign the decree ceding quasi-independence to the island his dynasty had annexed as part of the Risorgimento and a united Italy with the help of Garibaldi's invasion some 86 years earlier. The decree was completely antithetical to the very concept of Italian unity. The United States strongly advocated the new arrangement in view of Sicilian emigrè support in North America and a growing separatist movement at home in Sicily. American authorities made it clear they would underwrite the "start-up" costs needed to operate the new administrative district, the "Sicilian Region." More immediately, they wanted to ensure its existence before the upcoming national referendum which, as it happened, abolished the monarchy and exiled the Savoys.

In an abstract sense, this restored to Sicily a status akin to that enjoyed by the island from 1130, when Roger II established the Kingdom of Sicily, until 1816 when, as capital city, Palermo became subordinate to Naples as part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the state subsequently annexed to the upstart Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The Regional Assembly founded with this autonomy was, and is, housed in Palermo's Norman Palace, the historic residence and administrative center of Sicily's Norman and Swabian monarchs. The flag of the Sicilian Region is based on the trinacria (triskelion), an ancient Sicilian symbol, with the addition of wheat ears and Medusa's head. Its colors are those of the Aragonese coat of arms which arrived with King Peter of Aragon during the War of the Vespers in 1282.

Aragon's coat of arms.There is a regional president (or "governor") elected by popular vote and a regional assembly ("parliament") composed of ninety elected representatives ("deputies"). The governor appoints assessori (cabinet ministers) responsible for various services administered by the region, including healthcare, agriculture, forestry and tourism. The judiciary, law enforcement, military, foreign ministry and other agencies are operated from Rome by the state. ("Who runs Sicily?" is a simple question with a complicated answer.)

While Sicily is not a sovereign state, there is nothing to stop the island's governor presenting himself to foreign heads of state as if he, too, were a head of state. Yet Italy is not, strictly speaking, a federalist state, and the regional parliament of, for example, Lombardy (Milan) does not have the same legislative powers of Sicily's or Aosta's. A few nations have consulates in Catania and Palermo but the embassies are in Rome.

With its overpaid politicians and bureaucrats, as well as various outsourced consultants, the regional assembly and numerous regional agencies are frequently criticized by taxpayers, and not without reason. While certain officials and staff may be competent, the entire structure has always been quite inefficent. At present (November 2012), a new governor and deputies face a six billion euro budget deficit in Sicily, the region's bond rating having recently been downgraded for the umpteenth time. Yes, the Sicilian Region issues bonds.

Of course, the island's "autonomy" is largely an illusion. Though the region can levy certain taxes, most of the money necessary to operate Sicily comes from Rome and Brussels; yes, billions in European Union funds have been poured into "development" projects in "underdeveloped" Sicily. Agenda 2000 is the most infamous example of waste and corruption on a grand scale since the 1990s, a distinction formerly reserved for the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno which was subsidized in part by the Marshall Plan.

Think about it: Why are you reading this website and not one published by the Sicilian Region's tourism bureau? The regional tourism ministry has spent endless funds on mediocre tourism websites published in poor "Italianized" English by web firms in Milan and London. (Best of Sicily is based in Palermo.) It's an example of inefficiency that you can see. That said, a number of important nature reserves, historical and archeological sites and museums are administered by the region, in a few cases quite well, so all is not lost.

The fundamental shortcoming of the Sicilian Region is that it imposes yet another layer of burdensome bureaucracy in a nation where there has always been far too much of it. Forced to consider the matter and perhaps vote on it, most Sicilians would probably opt for the abolition of regional administration, but for now it looks as if the system is here to stay.

About the Author: Vincenzo Salerno has written for various publications and authored several books published in Italian.

Top of Page

© 2012 Best of Sicily