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Can Sardinia (Or Any Place) Change Countries?

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Usually, when small restive territories want to secede from their guardian countries, they try to become independent. Just look to Scotland or Catalonia this year, both of which had rumbling groups wanting to release themselves from the laws and economic tethers of the U.K. and Spain.

But down in Sardinia, the sun-bathed Italian island in the Mediterranean, the goal is more complicated. Sardinia is one of Italy’s five autonomous regions, relying for decades on Rome to boost its economy and provide its services. Neither has delivered for the island, where unemployment is more than 18 percent. Yet rather than secede and form its own nation and currency, a large group of Sardinians want to join Switzerland, the richer, more efficient, and direct democracy to the north.

For now, it’s little more than a pipe dream. Getting one country to let you go and another to take you in is a heavy lift no matter how high succession and re-adoption is polling. One amusing part is Switzerland’s reaction to the idea, seemingly the equivalent of minding your own business at a dance when someone else’s date says she’d like you to drive her home (“Uh, okay.”). A small, unscientific poll of 4,000 people found that the Swiss are generally open to the idea, although real numbers haven’t been crunched yet. What country wouldn’t want to add a picturesque and historic Mediterranean island to its tourism brochure?

Even if the idea fails to gain momentum, it’s a nice thought experiment in electoral feudalism—the idea of choosing to be governed under another country’s set of laws. Imagine if the state of New York, drawn to free health care and higher education, opted to become part of Canada. Or if Alaska, seeking less regulation for the oil and gas drilling in protected places, voted to join China. A few national team changes might encourage laws competing for economic activity, smart people, and prime land. There are many reasons why this would be preposterous in the U.S., but the Arab Spring in 2011 and this year’s demonstrations in Scotland and Catalonia have shown that in other parts of the world, people are dead serious about finding better ways of being governed. Under the Sardinian model, getting two permission slips signed peacefully without war or economic instability seems a pretty low price.