Rome, Dec 21: Italy is committed to upholding a bilateral treaty with Austria that grants the German-speaking population in the province of Alto Adige is committed to upholding a bilateral treaty with Austria that grants the German-speaking population in the province of Alto Adige the right to autonomy and to preserve their cultural identity and customs, Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Thursday.
"The Italian government is committed to continuing along this path," Alfano told his new Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl in a phone call in which he congratulated her on her appointment.
Alfano was referring to the 1946 Gruber-De Gasperi agreement signed by Austria's then Foreign Minister Karl Gruber and Italy's Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi in September 5, 1946. The accord also recognised German as an official language in Alto Adige - or Sudtirol - where more than half of the population speaks German as their first language.
Vienna sparked alarm in Italy after the newly-appointed coalition government suggested German-speaking Italian citizens in Alto Adige could soon obtain an Austrian passport. But Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday that the proposal to allow ethnic German residents in the region two passports came from a request from the inhabitants of Trentino-Alto Adige themselves.
Kurz said relations with Rome were "excellent" and the plan would only be implemented "in close cooperation with Italy and the Rome government".
At this, Alfano said: "Austria's determination to cooperate with Italy reassures us that the new Austrian government will only take initiatives based on these principles.
"In the spirit of mutual trust and staunch collaboration that mark relations between two European Union member states, Minister Kneissl and I have decided to set up a meeting in the next few weeks."