Discussion in the Austrian Parliament on Dual Citizenship for South Tyroleans

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: November 26, 2023; 23:47 ♦ (Vindobona)

A motion for a resolution recently tabled in the Austrian Parliament by the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) on the introduction of dual citizenship for South Tyroleans was rejected by the other parliamentary groups. This proposal aimed to allow members of the German and Ladin-speaking ethnic groups in South Tyrol to acquire Austrian citizenship in addition to Italian citizenship.

German-speaking South Tyroleans - but not Italian-speaking South Tyroleans - could be eligible for Austrian citizenship, according to rumors flying between Rome and Vienna. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons; Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Peter Wurm and Gerald Hauser from the FPÖ expressed their disappointment at the lack of political will among other parliamentary groups to support this step. They emphasized that, according to a survey, 13% of South Tyroleans want dual citizenship and called for action.

Counter-arguments and rejection of the FPö proposal

Hermann Gahr from the ÖVP pointed out that South Tyrol's Governor Arno Kompatscher would prefer European citizenship and does not support dual citizenship. Reinhold Lopatka and Alexander Melchior, also from the ÖVP, emphasized that the best possible coexistence of the three language groups in South Tyrol and the economic success of the region should be paramount. They argued that dual citizenship is becoming increasingly less important in the EU.

Selma Yildirim from the SPÖ emphasized the seriousness with which the protective function towards South Tyrol is taken. She described the demand for dual citizenship as a sensitive issue that could potentially affect the lives of the population. Yildirim emphasized that continuing to work on the successful model of South Tyrol's autonomy would be more effective than introducing dual citizenships.

Hermann Weratschnig from the Green Party warned that the FPÖ's plan could jeopardize South Tyrol's autonomy. He emphasized the importance of cooperation and collaboration within the European region and Austria's support for the autonomy of South Tyrol.

The discussion in Parliament reflected the complex views on national identity, autonomy, and the role of the European Union. While the FPÖ sees the introduction of dual citizenship for South Tyroleans as a positive measure, other parties emphasize the importance of autonomy and European integration. The rejection of the proposal shows a clear tendency towards a Europe of regions and cooperation, as opposed to an expansion of national citizenships. Italy also sharply criticizes these plans.

Reactions from Rome

Italy's reaction to Austria's proposal for dual citizenship for South Tyroleans, particularly those speaking German and Ladin, has been notably sharp and critical. Italian politicians, including from the current right-wing, populist government, have strongly decried the initiative. Rome's response indicated that national-level approval for such a proposal from Italy would be challenging to achieve.

Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Italy's former foreign minister, expressed in 2018 significant concerns, viewing the proposal as potentially hostile and inappropriate, especially given Austria's role in the Council of the European Union at the time, as reported by Deutsche Welle. This sentiment was echoed by other Italian politicians who criticized the initiative as an attempt to divide Italy along language lines. The Five Star Movement and the far-right League, part of Italy's governing parties, opposed the initiative, with concerns that it could create first and second-class citizens within South Tyrol. The initiative was also seen by some as an attack on Italian sovereignty.

These reactions underscore the sensitive nature of the issue, highlighting the complex interplay of national identity, regional autonomy, and the politics of citizenship within the European Union context.

Reactions from South Tyrol

The reaction in South Tyrol to the Austrian plan to allow dual citizenship for German and Ladin-speaking residents is mixed but generally positive, as reported by Deutsche Welle. While some politicians in Italy's current government criticized the initiative, some regional politicians in South Tyrol welcomed it. Some even advocated extending language-based dual citizenship to the Trentino region, which was also part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The South Tyrolean People's Party (SVP) planned some political events to discuss "South Tyrol and the Austrian motherland".

The proposal was described as a sensitive issue that should not be included in South Tyrol's regional elections. The autonomous SVP has campaigned for dual citizenship in the past, and smaller South Tyrolean parties in favor of secession from Italy, such as "Die Freiheitlichen", could bring this issue to the fore in their campaigns. Dual citizenship for German-speaking South Tyroleans is an important issue for the FPÖ. Austrian citizenship for South Tyroleans would be largely symbolic but would allow them to vote in Austrian national elections.

South Tyrol: Between Austria and Italy

South Tyrol, a picturesque region in the heart of the Alps, is more than just a place of scenic beauty. Its history is a reflection of European power struggles, cultural shifts, and the constant search for identity. The early history of South Tyrol is characterized by changing dominions - from the Roman Empire to the Holy Roman Empire. In the 19th century, it became part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, establishing a strong German-speaking culture. This cultural identity was to be put to the test after the First World War when South Tyrol was ceded to Italy under the Treaty of Saint-Germain. This led to deep tensions, as a large part of the population identified with the German language and culture.

The period of fascism under Mussolini brought with it a harsh policy of Italianization. This was aimed at suppressing the German language and culture and fueled resistance and a stronger identification with German origins. After the Second World War, lengthy negotiations began, which resulted in far-reaching autonomy for South Tyrol in 1972. This autonomy was a turning point. It enabled the German and Ladin-speaking population to preserve and strengthen their cultural identity while remaining part of the Italian state.

Today, South Tyrol presents itself as an example of successful European cultural coexistence. The region enjoys a unique autonomy within Italy and actively promotes three official languages: German, Italian, and Ladin. South Tyrol thus stands as a symbol for the possibility of uniting different cultures and languages within a common political framework.

Austrian Parliament