In a meeting between Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Tuesday, September 18, the Italian government reiterated its opposition to Austria granting a passport to the German-speaking minority of Northern Italy.

 “I had the opportunity to express to Kurz that Italy has a clear position on the passports and dual,” Conte told the Italian news agency ANSA.

“Many people in South Tyrol want the double passport and this is part of the (Austrian) government’s programme,” Kurz said prior to the meeting.

Italy’s foreign minister cancelled on Monday, September 17 a meeting with his Austrian counterpart over Vienna’s plans to grant citizenship to the German-speaking minority in Italian South Tyrol.

Austria’s move “deteriorates the climate of mutual serenity and trust,” ” the office of Enzo MoaveroMilanesi said in a statement, adding that the move reflects Vienna’s “anachronistic desire for revenge” precisely a century following the end of World War I.

“It has once more been explained (to Austria) that the possible unilateral initiative appears particular inopportune, considering the elections in Alto Adige,” the ministry said in a statement.

Last week, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz was in the regional capital Bolzano, campaigning on behalf of the South Tyrolean People’s Party in the forthcoming regional election scheduled for October 21.

In an interview with the Austrian provincial daily Tiroler Tageszeitung, the Kurz referred to the precedent of extending Italian citizenship to minorities in Slovenia and Croatia as part of his justification for offering Austrian passports to the historic German-speaking population.

In a more conciliatory move, Kurtz said that Vienna will seek Rome’s consent, that is, a position he reiterated on Tuesday.

On Friday, September 7, the Italian foreign ministry issued a statement expressing its dismay at the “bizarre” move to extend citizenship to the German-speaking minority during Vienna’s EU Presidency.

Known in Italian as Alto Adige, South Tyrol was annexed by Italy following the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as part of its reward for having fought on the side of the Allies against the defeated Central Powers.

The 2011 census suggests that 70% of South Tyroleans are native German speakers, compared to about 25% whose mother tongue is either Italian or Ladin (Romance language, considered an Italian dialect). Austria plans to extend citizenship to German and Ladin speakers.

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