South Tyrol: A Test for European Unity

The Austrian government offered Italian South Tyrolians the Austrian citizenship. To their surprise, South Tyrolians did not care for their offer.

South Tyrol (Alto Adige ital.) is a region with a complicated history. It is located in the North of Italy, bordering on Austria’s Tyrol and Switzerland’s Grisons.


Originally, it was settled in part by Alpine-Romans and by the old Bavarians. Then, it belonged to Austria-Hungary until 1919, before it was separated from the remaining Tyrol. The majority of its inhabitants still speak German, though a significant portion of the population speaks Italian. Moreover, a minority mainly in the Dolomites speaks the Ladin language.

The Austrian Government

Austria never fully accepted the loss of South Tyrol and citizens tend to consider South Tyrolians as displaced Austrians. Most recently, the populist government in Austria, formed between the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP, EPP) and the Freedom Party Austria (FPÖ, ENF) offered South Tyrolians the Austrian citizenship. To their surprise, South Tyrolians did not care for their offer. The government proclaims its move to grant South Tyrolians Dual-Citizenship as an example of their love for European unity. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.

The Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino Euroregion

Thanks to the four freedoms of the European Union, a regional cooperation has already been established in 1998. The Tyrol–South Tyrol–Trentino Euroregion works closely together, often releasing joint declarations and even has a joint parliament and joint-regional representation office in Brussels. In fact, the three regions have already joined together beyond the borders of their nation states, by utilising the freedoms granted by European citizenship. The Austrian move endangers this cooperation, by creating an artificial conflict around national sovereignty between Austria and Italy and dragging their respective regions into it.


South Tyrol holds the status of an autonomous province. Because of this, the region and its citizens enjoy a great deal of independence from Italy, allowing it to govern itself in most matters, as well as granting it other benefits, such as reduced taxation. As such, the region has little to no reason to try and anger its patrons in Rome, by accepting the Austrians’ offer. If anything, acceptance of Austrian citizenship by all of South Tyrol would lead to a territorial dispute between Austria and Italy. Something unthinkable within the European Union.