27th Nov 2022

Austrian leader calls for referendum if EU treaty changed

Austria's chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, has said that if any changes are made to the Lisbon Treaty following its rejection by Irish voters earlier this month, then it should be put to a referendum in his country.

"We think any future changes to the treaty that affect Austrian interests must be decided in Austria by a referendum," Mr Gusenbauer said in an open letter published in tabloid daily Kronen Zeitung.

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  • The mood among the population is too negative, says Mr Gusenbauer (l) (Photo: SPÖ)

"A lot of people are under the impression that the EU is not concerned with their real problems but that it is interested above all in looking after itself."

The letter was also signed by the president of the Social Democrats, Werner Faymann.

The social democrats are part of the ruling coalition, along with the centre-right Austrian People's Party, in Austria.

The letter says that if a new-look treaty has to be ratified again in Austria, then the social democrats "want to convince" their coalition partner to take the referendum route.

"There is also in Austria widespread scepticism about the EU at the moment. After the vast majority of Austrians voted in favour of EU membership in 1994, today we see a mood of uncertainty and sometimes also rejection."

Austria's parliament has already ratified the treaty, making it one of the 20 national assemblies to have done so.

But Ireland's rejection of the treaty on 12 June has brought the EU's institutional woes once more to the fore as all 27 member states have to ratify it for it to come into force.

Plassnik: Big mistake

Since the vote, EU leaders have been wracking their brains over how to get the Lisbon Treaty into place anyway but without giving the impression that Irish vote does not matter.

The most likely course is set to be a second referendum on the document including some special provisos for Ireland, possibly on neutrality and tax issues.

So far there has been little political appetite to re-open negotiations on the document, which is already a result of bitter discussions after the rejection of the EU constitution in 2005.

The move by the leading Social Democrats has already caused strong divisions among the ruling parties.

Foreign minister Ursula Plassnik, from the centre-right, said that the call for a popular vote is just a disguise for an anti-European stance and called it a "big mistake."

Othmar Karas, the head of Austria's centre-right in the European Parliament, said that the Social Democrats "have removed themselves from the role of constructive partner in the EU."

But Hannes Swoboda, vice-president of the Socialists in the EU assembly, told Der Standard newspaper: "It is not possible any other way - it cannot go on like this."

He suggested that revising the treaty and putting it for parliamentary ratification again would "not get through" as the mood among the population is too negative.

According to Mr Swoboda, similar discussions are being had in Greece and the Netherlands and the Social Democrats' move would put other member states under pressure to make a such a promise.

Until now, among Austria's political parties, only the far-right FPOe and BZOe had called for a referendum.

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