In a recent meeting between Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the former made clear that the Italian government steadfastly opposes Vienna’s plant to grant Austrian passports to the German-speaking minority that inhabits areas of Northern Italy that were once a part of Austria’s various empires.
“I had the opportunity to explain to Kurz that Italy has a clear position on the issue of passports and dual citizenship,” Conte told the Italian news agency ANSA.
Kurz’ government has, in recent months, adopted a policy that would see the German-speaking population of South Tyrol, or Trentino-Alto Adige in Italian, acquire the right to hold both an Italian and Austrian passport. Roughly 70% of South Tyrol’s residents are native German speakers.
“Many people in South Tyrol want the double passport and this is part of the (Austrian) government’s programme,” Kurz said prior to his meeting with Conte.
Austria’s move “deteriorates the climate of mutual serenity and trust,” ” The office of Italy’s Foreign Minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi was more blunt in its assessment f Kurz’ plan, saying in a statement, “Austria’s decision to move forward with this plan deteriorates the climate of mutual serenity and trust between the two neighbours.” Milanesi’s statement, through the foreign ministry, later added that he saw the move as an attempt by the right-wing government in Vienna to “exact revenge” on Italy for the what it sees as a historical wrong that was forced on the then-Austro-Hungarian Empire following its defeat in World War I.
“It has once more been explained (to Austria) that the possible unilateral initiative appears particular inopportune, considering the elections in Alto Adige,” the ministry said in a statement.
Kurtz was recently in South Tyrol’s regional capital Bolzano campaigning on behalf of candidates running for the South Tyrolean People’s Party, all of whom will run in the forthcoming regional election scheduled for October 21. In an interview with the Austrian provincial daily Tiroler Tageszeitung, Kurz referred to the precedent of extending Italian citizenship to similar initiatives that will be offered to minorities in Slovenia and Croatia as part of his justification for offering Austrian passports to historic German-speaking populations to areas that were once under Vienna’s imperial dominions
Kurz has said that government will seek both Rome’s consent and cooperation while working on the matter, That conciliatory not was, however, greeted with scepticism in Italy after the foreign ministry issued a statement saying Kurz’ timing for such an initiative was“bizarre” as his dual citizenship policy drive comes while Austrian is chairing the EU’s rotating presidency.
South Tyrol was annexed by Italy following the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as part of its reward for having fought on the side of the Allies against the defeated Central Powers. A 2011 census suggests that 70% of South Tyroleans are native German speakers, compared to about 25% whose mother tongue is either Italian or Ladin (a Latin-based language that is considered an Italian dialect).
Under Kurz’ dual citizenship plan, Vienna would offer Austrian citizenship to both German and Ladin speakers.