Popular consultations of self-determination get to South Tyrol

South Tyrolean pro-sovereignty party is to hold a referendum at the municipality of Ahrntal · The territory’s largest party, the pro-autonomy SVP, rules out the popular voting and pledges commitment to Italian-Austrian dual citizenship

An intense political scenario is expected in November in the Alpine town of Ahrntal as the first self-determination consultation ever in South Tyrol will take place. The voting will emulate the popular un-official referendums held in Catalonia since 2009, and are being promoted by the Süd-Tiroler Freiheit party (South Tyrolean Freedom), which holds 2 seats in the parliament of South Tyrol. Members of this political party were invited by CIEMEN on December 12 2009 and June 20 2010 to attend the Catalan consultations as international observers.

The campaign is starting on January 22 with an information session and a ballot in St. Johann, one of the villages the municipality of Ahrntal consists of. Quim Arrufat, representing CIEMEN, will participate in the information session. He will brief South Tyrolean public on the experience of popular consultations in Catalonia. Further sessions and a door-to-door service have been programmed until November to inform neighbors on the right to exercise their vote. According to the 2001 electoral roll, more than 98% of the citizens of Ahrntal are German-speakers, while only 1% declare themselves as speakers of Italian.

South Tyrolean Freedom (STF) seeks to put on the political agenda and parliamentary debate the issue of self-determination for South Tyrol. As in Catalonia, the referendum will be held only in one town and subsequently spread throughout the country. STF is in favour of breaking away from Italy and reuniting South Tyrol with the rest of Austrian-administered Tyrol. According to a 2007 poll, people in favour of severing ties with Italy stands at 54.6%: 33.4% would back the establishment of an independent state and 21.3% would side with the Austrian-integration solution.

The main South-Tyrolean party, against the ballot

However, the territory's majority party is the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP, South Tyrolean People's Party), a conservative and pro-autonomy political force. The SVP seeks to enlarge autonomous powers for South Tyrol within the Republic of Italy. SVP's president of South Tyrol Luis Durnwalder declared the idea of reunification with the rest of Tyrol is "absurd". But the SVP welcomed and praised only a year ago the consultations on Catalonia's independence from Spain. In fact, some of their members attended as observers, as STF officials did. As a result of the Catalan process, several SVP and STF MP's set up a parliamentary intergroup to promote similar referendums in South Tyrol, but the SVP representatives withdrew later on.