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 Province’s 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 government’s 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.