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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

German-speakers in the Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige (Autonomous Province Bolzano – South Tyrol, hereinafter “South Tyrol”) constitute 69.6% of the total population of the Province, the rest belonging to the Italian (25.8%) and Ladin (4.5%) ethno-linguistic groups.[1] South Tyrol enjoys a high level of self-government and fiscal autonomy, according to Article 6 of the Italian Constitution,[2] the provisions of the 1946 Accordo De Gasperi – Gruber (De Gasperi – Gruber Agreement) between Italy and Austria,[3] also known as Paris Agreement, and the 1972 second Autonomy Statute for South Tyrol.[4] Under the Paris Agreement, in particular, Austria exercises a protective function for South Tyrol, historically monitoring progress towards the attainment of autonomy by the Province. To this extent, in 1960, Austria submitted the question of the implementation of South Tyrol’s autonomy to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). The dispute was settled on 19 June 1992, by means of a discharge issued by both States before the UN, after all the measures that make South Tyrol’s autonomy a unique model of minorities’ protection had been enacted.[5]

Against this background, in 2017, the decision of the Austrian Government to support a reform of its domestic legislation favoring the acquisition of dual citizenship by German and Ladin South-Tyroleans became a significant source of tension between the two neighboring countries. Indeed, the debate on the attribution of the Austrian citizenship to South Tyroleans can be traced back to at least a decade before. Since 2006, the autonomist party Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP – South Tyrolean People’s Party) had lobbied for the attribution of Austrian citizenship to German-speaking South Tyroleans.[6] Already in 2009, a first draft law by the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ – Freedom Party of Austria),[7] although subsequently rejected by the Austrian Parliament, prompted a reaction by the Ministro degli Affari esteri e della Cooperazione internazionale (Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Mr Franco Frattini, who, in a diplomatic note transmitted to Vienna, defined the proposal as a “non-friendly gesture towards Italy”.[8] The proposal for a dual citizenship for South-Tyroleans was further discussed following a 2011 motion filed by the Consiglio della Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano (South Tyrol’s Council)[9] and a 2013 citizens’ initiative,[10] for which on 9 April 2014 the Austrian Parliament instituted an ad hoc subcommittee, the Südtirol Unterausschuss (South Tyrol Subcommittee), within the Außenpolitische Ausschuss (Foreign Affairs Committee).

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