09:49 GMT24 October 2020
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    Vienna is reportedly looking to introduce a bill to provide Austrian citizenship to German-speaking residents of Italy's South Tyrol. Radio Sputnik discussed the concerns regarding South Tyrol with Jens Woelk, associate professor of comparative constitutional law at the University of Trento.

    Sputnik: Austria is downplaying the concerns regarding South Tyrol. What should we really make of this situation?

    Jens Woelk: It’s a very delicate and difficult subject because it’s not the first case and the only case that there might be a dual citizenship for some people in the border area and not even where minorities are involved, but I think the international consensus on these issues and international law has evolved over time and it’s now relatively clear.

    I would dare to say that this is a matter which does not only regard one of the two countries in the exercise of sovereignty actually because this would be Austria’s sovereignty exercise with consequences on the other side of the border outside its own jurisdiction. 

    And then there is the specific situation in South Tyrol where we do have a kind of model solution for resolving ethnic conflicts in the sense that there is legally guaranteed and constitutionally guaranteed autonomy, which is based on a bilateral agreement between Austria and Italy, which is a very positive factor and which has been, as I said, considered as a model solution over the last years.

    So in this sense it’s a bit strange and maybe to some extent a worrying situation, although we are still talking about intentions about announcements, but as far as I know there is no concrete legal legislative draft yet.

    Sputnik: Well I think most people would want to understand what could be the reason to such a move considering that both countries are members of the European Union. I appreciate that it’s probably quite complex; can you shed a bit of light on that?

    Jens Woelk: I think there is a change in the government in Austria, for sure, and there is probably also a political will of sustaining politically related parties in the autonomous political system of South Tyrol. There are elections in South Tyrol on October 21 and also the South Tyrolian Peoples Party, which used to be and still is the majority representation party of the German speakers in South Tyrol.

    It is of course very close to the Austrian Peoples Party now in government in Austria, and so I think this is rather a political question although this is not the first time that such a plan comes up. It has been used some years ago, then there was silence about it and now it has come up again, but in this intensity and insistence is probably quite unique.

    Sputnik: Now I am reading here that Rome is unlikely to allow this dual citizenship arrangement to happen. If that is the case what tensions could this create between Italy and Austria moving forward then?

    Jens Woelk: This is exactly the point. Tension is the key word; this is the measure which is creating or is likely to create tensions and this is a pity because, as I said, generally the living together of the three language groups – Italians, Germans and Ladins – in South Tyrol works very well. 

    It’s considered to be a very successful autonomy solution. There is a euro region in place, which is actually a European grouping of the Territorial Corporation. According to EU rules this is a kind of cross border legal entity between Tyrol and Austria, South Tyrol and Stintino in Italy. 

    Also here if you introduce such an element and we have to see how it should be introduced, if its collectively done for all the people living in the region or if it is only done for German or Ladin speakers, as it is usually referred to in the press. 

    But this is not easy to decide who is a German and a Ladin speaker in legal terms, of course, and this would in a way risk to jeopardize not only the good relations between Italy and Austria, but it would risk creating tensions within these cross-border entity, which has been a success and which has already been put a bit at risk due to the questions regarding the [brenapas] regarding the migrant question to be sometimes closed for controls and so on.

    Sputnik: Do you think there could be potential implications bearing in mind Austria’s EU presidency this year?

    Jens Woelk: Of course, implications in the sense that this is certainly seen as a measure, if this is done unilaterally, and so far there have been only consultations with [..]  and not directly as far as I know with Italy because the whole relationship regarding South Tyrol has been resolved because Italy did not consider it only an internal Italian matter and Austria always consulted with the Italian government and then also of course with the South Tyroleans.

    But it was not exclusively done, it was always treated as a bilateral matter, the issue of South Tyrol, up to the question of the cross-border cooperation I mentioned. In this sense if you now would start a unilateral initiative of that sort this might create implications for the EU presence it is certainly not a behavior which can be described as good neighborly relations, which used to be in place until not so long ago.

    The views and opinions expressed by Jens Woelk are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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