Vienna, 31 January 2003 - In response to numerous requests by the media relating to statements recently made in an Italian regional newspaper by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who questioned Austria's protective function for the German and Ladin-speaking population of South Tyrol in view of the future European constitution, the Austrian Foreign Ministry states the following:
"Austria already undertook efforts aimed at enshrining minority rights at the European level during the elaboration of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Fully in line with this policy, Austria has also vigorously supported embodying this issue into a future European constitution within the EU Convention. Austria welcomes a similar willingness on the part of Italy. Although it is currently not in the least foreseeable whether the goal of enshrining the protection of minority rights in a future European constitution can actually be achieved, it is beyond doubt that such a formulation of European minimum standards would not only not invalidate further-reaching national, bilateral and multilateral regulations, but would on the contrary even require such regulations or stimulate and encourage them.
Under no circumstances can a future European constitution invalidate bilateral treaties, such as the Treaty of Paris of 1946. Thus the protective function of Austria for the South Tyroleans will continue to be fully upheld as a matter of course, on which issue there is a political consensus among all parties represented in the Austrian National Council.
Regarding the statements made by Foreign Minister Frattini on the Europe Region (EUREGIO), it is stated that Austria continues to firmly support the cross-border cooperation of regional authorities as an important supplement to the European process of integration. In this context Austria notes with satisfaction that this type of cross-border cooperation is being actively promoted by both the European Union and the Council of Europe."