Developments Concerning Austria’s Attempts to Grant Dual Nationality and Consular Assistance to German- and Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans

Toned down during the first part of 2019, the diplomatic row between Italy and Austria over Vienna’s draft laws on dual nationality and consular assistance for German- and Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans resurfaced[1] following the fall of the Austrian Government in May 2019.

The position of Italy was summarized on 22 January 2019, during a question time taking place before the Chamber of Deputies at its 111th Meeting (XVIII Legislature), by the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Guglielmo Picchi, who put great emphasis on the possible discriminating effects of such an initiative against Italian-speaking citizens and stressed “the principles of equality of all Italian citizens and of unity and indivisibility of the Italian State”. Mr Picchi further qualified the Austrian initiative as

difficult to understand in the European context, especially if we consider that Austrians and Italians already share the common citizenship of the European Union and that Italy and Austria, as EU members, should, in a spirit of cooperation, work to strengthen the principle of European citizenship.

This statement, which half a year later was reiterated by the new Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr Ricardo Merlo,[2] portrayed Austria’s undertaking as demeaning European citizenship – and, with it, the scope of the EU action in this sphere – and seems to indirectly suggest a possible Austrian breach of the EU Member States’ duty of sincere cooperation.[3] Accordingly, the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation referred the matter to the European Commission.[4]

A resolution approved by the Austrian Parliament on 19 September 2019 requested the Bundesminister für Inneres (Federal Minister of Interior) and the Bundesminister für Europa, Integration und Äußeres (Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs) to promptly enter into bilateral talks with their Italian colleagues and the South Tyrolean representatives to discuss dual citizenship for South Tyroleans, with a view to submitting to Parliament a draft law on this issue.[5] However, the new Government elected soon thereafter did not re-propose the passportization of German- and Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans. The Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Schallenberg, noted that

The Italian side has repeatedly rejected the possibility [for German- and Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans] to retain the Italian citizenship jointly with the Austrian one. The granting of dual citizenship […] was a project of the former government, with no decisions taken. To me […], it is not necessary to plan further steps or new legal measures.[6]

Nonetheless, it has been agreed in the Government program that “Austria will […] continue to perform its protective function” and work towards “the restoration of the competences that have been lost since the 1992 dispute settlement declaration”.[7] On this point, Italy signaled its openness to approve a modern version of a draft international agreement that reiterates the protective function of Austria over South Tyrol.[8]

Aida Halilovic

[1] The subject is analysed in detail in Pertile and Halilovic, “Treatment of Aliens and Nationality”, IYIL, 2019, p. 510 ff.

[2] Before the Senate of the Republic (34th Meeting, XVIII Legislature) on 3 July 2019.

[3] On the duty of sincere cooperation of Member States with the EU institutions (laid down in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on the EU) in the field of foreign policy, see Van Elsuwege, “The Duty of Sincere Cooperation and Its Implications for Autonomous Member State Action in the Field of External Relations”, in Varju (ed.), Between Compliance and Particularism: Member State Interests and European Union Law, Cham, 2019, p. 283 ff.

[4] As announced by Mr Picchi during his speech of 22 January 2019.

[5] Austrian Parliament, “Entschließung des Nationalrates vom 19. September 2019 betreffend enge bilaterale Gespräche zur Doppelstaatsbürgerschaft für Südtiroler”, 121/E XXVI. GP, available here. The dialogue between Austria and Italy had to be conducted “in a European spirit”: Austrian Parliament, “Entschließungsantrag der Abgeordneten Werner Neubauer, Hermann Gahr, Kolleginnen und Kollegen, betreffend enge bilaterale Gespräche zur Doppelstaatsbürgerschaft für Südtiroler”, XXVI. GP 19. September 2019, 88. Sitzung/3; available here.

[6] Austrian Parliament, “Anfragebeantwortung, Aktueller Status der Gespräche zur Doppelstaatsbürgerschaft für Südtiroler”, 70/AB vom 20.12.2019 zu 60/J (XXVII. GP), available here.

[7] Aus Verantwortung für Österreich. Regierungsprogramm 2020-2024, p. 184, available here.

[8] As reported by the press. See, e.g., “Alto Adige, Vienna frena su doppio passaporto”, ANSA, 23 December 2019, available here.

Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi, Chamber of Deputies, 22 January 2019.

Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ricardo Merlo, Senate of the Republic, 3 July 2019.

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