Italy incensed by Austria dual-citizenship meeting

ROME – Diplomatic tensions were raised on Thursday morning as Italy’s ambassador to Austria was instructed not to attend a meeting in Vienna, scheduled for March 23, over the thorny issue of dual-citizenship for German or Ladin speakers in South Tyrol.

 Austria has provoked the spat by inviting representatives from South Tyrol, an autonomous province in Italy, requesting a meeting for “an exchange of opinions on the possibility of acquiring double citizenship, Austria as well as Italian, for the citizens of the German or Ladin group of Alto Adige (South Tyrol),” in a letter sent on March 1 detailed in La Stampa.

 The issue was first raised following the formation of Austria’s new coalition government in Dec 2017, with Austria’s new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, proposing the change of citizenship.

 Karin Kneissl, Austria’s foreign minister, is said to have put together a cross-ministerial group to explore the legal and constitutional effects of the move, as well as inviting representatives from South Tyrol’s autonomous government in Bolzano.

 However, Austria’s pressing ahead with the move has angered Italy, which sees the move as an unjustifiable interference in its own internal affairs.  

 Angelino Alfano, Italy’s Foreign Minister, released a statement on Wednesday that he had “instructed our ambassador in Austria to not take part in the meeting.”

 “As already reiterated to my Austrian counterpart, Kneissl, on the occasion of the meeting in January,” Alfano asserted, “any eventual discussion on the theme will only be able to take place between Rome and Vienna, and not also, on an equal level with Bolzano, that is an autonomous region of the Italian Republic.”

 In a fiery exchange between the two countries, Alfano also argued that “the Italian position is known regarding the absence of reasons put forward by Vienna in defence of the proposal,” noting the “high levels of protection for minorities in Alto Adige.”

 Austria’s coalition includes the staunchly nationalist, Freedom party, though Chancellor Kurz has previously stated that the move would, on the contrary, be in the spirit of “European integration.”