'Nationalist' Austrians give citizenship to Italians

Austrian passports. PHOTO: The Local Austria

ROME - The Italian government has strongly criticised the plans of the far-right Austrian coalition government to give Austrian citizenship to those living in the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige, according to news sources. Future Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his ally, ultra-right Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party, are looking to grant passports to the mainly German-speaking population on the Italian-Austrian border.

 The South Tyrol region of Trentino-Alto Adige is an autonomous province in Northern Italy. The Italian and Austrian governments historically came to an agreement that the Alpine region should be mainly autonomous so as to protect its multi-linguistic heritage.

 However, the newly elected Austrian government is seeking to unofficially incorporate those living in the territory into their own country, sparking alarm from Italians. A spokesperson for the Austrian government, Werner Neubauer, announced at a press conference that those living in South Tyrol will be able to apply for an Austrian passport as early as 2018, and the applications of who declare themselves as German will be advanced “so as not to burden the pockets of families.” On top of this, according to news sources, Neubauer has also said that South Tyrolean athletes will be able to compete for the Austrian national team.

 Opponents of the move have argued that plans to extend Austrian citizenship point to a nationalist agenda. According to newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Benedetto Della Vedova, has criticised the move as “even if done with the velvet glove of Europeanism,” it has sense of "the ethnic-nationalist iron fist” and “to allow the citizenship on an ethnic basis would have very serious effects, for example in all the Balkans, undermining co-existence in counties, also in the EU, characterised by the presence of citizens of multiple cultures.”

 Italian unease about the anti-European Austrian government is perceivable. It is reflected in the comments of the European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, on the nature of Kurz’s government. In an interview with Tg3, he expressed fears that Austria wants to exit the EU in “an ‘Oexit,’ a referendum.” Granting Austrian passports to those living in Italy, he said would be “an unrealistic move, it would not be a relaxing move.”

 Kurz is expected to inaugurate his new coalition Monday. Despite fears that the government is turning its back on Europe, Strache, Kurz’s partner, has assured critics that the Austrian government continues to be pro-European. “We stand by the European Union, we stand by Europe’s peace project.”