By Gerd Valchars, GLOBALCIT country expert
The new Austrian government, a coalition of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) sworn in on 18 December 2017, presented their plans for the next five years.
The 180-page government programme includes several intended changes of the Austrian citizenship law. The paper announces among others an “adjustment” of the naturalisation requirements, and mentions in particular the German language, income and residence criteria. What exactly is meant by “adjustment” is open to interpretation but as both parties argued for stricter requirements in the past, it can be assumed that the aim is to raise the naturalisation conditions. Moreover, media reported about an agreement to increase the residence requirement for recognised refugees from now six to ten years. This plan is not explicitly mentioned in the government programme but has not been denied either. Representatives of both parties repeatedly argued for an extended residence requirement for refugees in the past.
The government programme further mentions a compulsory citizenship course to prepare applicants for the naturalisation test. The test was introduced in 2006, its success rate has been reported to be very high. Reasons why a compulsory course is needed are not mentioned.
International attention has been raised by the proposal to offer Austrian citizenship to German and Ladin speaking people living in the South Tyrol region of north Italy. The autonomous province, known in Italian as Alto Adige, formed part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but became part of Italy under the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye in 1919 following the first world war.
Under the heading “Dual Citizenship Rethought” the government programme argues that offering Austrian citizenship to German and Ladin speaking Italians would be “in the spirit of European integration” and “promote an ever closer union of citizens of the member states”. Dual citizenship in this case should be accepted. Immediate reactions by the Italian government were rather harsh, the proposal was read as a “provocative move”, a government official explains. Sandro Gozi, Italy’s EU minister, dismissed the proposal as “propaganda deriving from the fireworks of the electoral campaign” and warned that if Austria were to follow through unilaterally “it would be an anti-European political act”. The idea was inserted into the government programme at the Freedom party’s request. The party has been arguing for dual citizenship for Austro-Hungarian descendants living in South Tyrol for several years; the People’s Party kept rejecting this idea.
Under the same heading, the government programme announces the possibility of dual citizenship for descendants of Austrians who had to flee the country to escape persecution by the Nazis as well as a solution for Austrians living in the United Kingdom post-Brexit. Amendments regarding the strict Austrian regulations concerning dual citizenship in case of naturalisation are not mentioned in the programme. The issue was hotly debated earlier this year with allegations that significant numbers of immigrants from Turkey had formally renounced their nationality of origin in order to meet the Austrian naturalisation conditions but had subsequently reacquired Turkish nationality, which under Austrian law implies immediate loss of Austrian citizenship. Both parties argued for a strict ban on dual citizenship and mentioned among other reasons legal problems concerning rights and obligations and the individual’s need to fully identify with one state only.
A schedule for the announced legal changes is not mentioned in the government programme.
Government Programme: Zusammen. Für unser Österreich. Regierungsprogramm 2017–2022 (in German).
Der Standard: Die politische Taktik hinter dem Doppelpass für Südtiroler (in German)
Financial Times: Austria and Italy clash over South Tyrol citizenship proposal
Washington Post: Austria walks back double-citizenship plan after Italy balks
Kurier: Österreichische Pässe für Südtiroler? Wie bei Orban und Putin (in German)