E.U. Commission questions South Tyrolean minority model

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Jan 5 14:15:40 UTC 2004


Eurolang, the European news agency for minority languages

E.U. Commission questions South Tyrolean minority model
Copenhagen  19/12/03, by Brigitte Alfter

The European Commission is considering a case against Italy at the
European Court because of the South Tyrolean model of minority protection.
The autonomous province of South Tyrol, however, has not yet seen the
content of the opening letter by the Commission, according to Franz
Volgger, spokesperson of the Provinces Government.

Whereas minority protection in South Tyrol has often been described as a
positive example, a multilingual organisation in the province, Convivia,
has complained about the methodology of the protection. The step from the
Commission is in answer to that complaint, Volgger says. It was not
possible to get a comment from Convivia. However, according to Franz
Volgger, the complaint was filed as early as 1981.

Since the 70s, the South Tyrolean system has been based on sharing social
goods like public positions, public funding and public housing
proportionally between the three language groups of the north Italian
Province. According to the latest census of 2001, 69 percent are German
speakers in the province, 26 percent of the population are Italian
speakers, and 4 percent speak Ladin.

In connection with the census, which is held once every ten years, people
are asked to declare which language group they belong to. Based on that
information, they can apply for jobs, funding or social housing, if
positions or apartments are available for their language group.

The commissioner Frits Bolkestein, responsible for internal market
questions, is especially critical of the model of using ethnic identity in
connection with the distribution of jobs and social housing. This praxis
is an infringement of privacy, his spokesperson said, according to the
Austrian daily Die Presse.

According to Franz Volgger, the declaration of language every tenth year
is a crucial part of the system to avoid ad-hoc declarations depending on
which language group has the right to the job, apartment or funding in
question. The Italian governments department for data-protection shares
the view of the complainant according to Die Presse.

The Government of the Province of South Tyrol under the leadership of Luis
Durnwalder of the conservative South Tyrolean Peoples Party, SVP, is
willing to improve the procedures if needed, according to Volgger.
However, he could not give any detailed comment, as he did not know the
exact content of the Commission complaint yet.

The South Tyrolean model is based on the Paris Declaration of 1946, which
guarantees the protection of the German-speakers in the province that was
part of Austria until WW II. The method of distributing social goods
according to language did not come into force until 1972 after many years
of direct action and protest, amongst them the Night of Fire in June 1961,
when numerous power supply lines were blown up. The UN was involved with
resolutions drawn up in 1960 and 1961 urging the parties to negotiate in
order to find a peaceful solution in the region. (Eurolang)

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